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President Freeman highlights energy, optimism, impact during first State of the University Address

October 23, 2019

NIU President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman celebrated amazing students, faculty and alumni during her State of the University Address as she introduced and heralded new initiatives that will make the university stronger and a better place to work.

Those include the Huskie Pledge, which will allow more students to access higher education at NIU, and Huskies Give Back, which encourages employee volunteerism.

Building a flourishing university also is coming from partnerships with higher education institutions “that share our commitment to diminishing achievement gaps and promoting student success,” Freeman said, and through local consideration of assigning greater weight to high school GPA than ACT or SAT scores in determining financial aid for “talented students from diverse backgrounds.”

Momentum already is seen in new degree programs, cutting-edge faculty research that changes the world and significant investments in infrastructure that will crest this week in the unveiling of the new amenities of the Holmes Student Center and the renovated Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commons outside.

Freeman, named as NIU’s 13th president last fall and installed at a spring investiture, began her Oct. 22 remarks with words of gratitude for the support she’s felt.

“It’s a testament to the profound impact NIU has in our personal and professional lives, in our town and across the globe,” Freeman said. “The message to me is always clear – the people and educational opportunities from NIU are transformative, not only for individuals, but also for their families and communities. The energy and optimism for our university is greater than I’ve ever experienced. Together, we truly are making a difference, and I applaud you all for that.”

Evidence of that is found throughout campus, she said, including in external validation from prospective NIU families and in improving numbers related to enrollment.

Applications for Fall 2019 climbed by 10 percent, she said, and the university is up 2 percent in new freshman, transfer and graduate students, 5 percent in new law students, 25 percent in out-of-state students and 37 percent in new online students.

More than half of all new freshman and transfer students come from traditionally underrepresented groups, Freeman added, saying that “their perspectives, experiences and cultures will enrich our community and their educational experience.”

“These new students will inspire us to be our best,” she said.

“They are awesome. They are excited to be here. I love seeing them in their spirit wear, exploring our campus and city, taking and posting pictures at our new Huskie Pride sculpture,” she added. “They are also actively involved, creating connections to each other through common interests and experiences, defining and building their own NIU communities.”

Current Huskies, including those who serve as Northern Ambassadors, are helping to build the positivity. She read aloud an email from the Carroll family, whose visit to campus changed their minds about whether NIU made the short list.

Of all the schools we’ve toured this summer, Brigid and Kaelyn were, by far, the most impressive and helpful people we encountered and the NIU tour was, by far the most informative and helpful tour we participated in. Before the tour if you had asked us ‘is NIU in your consideration set for your kids to attend?’ my wife and I would have said ‘probably not’ – after the tour…our answer would be “definitely, yes.”

Yet the excitement over a growing community of Huskies provides challenges and opportunities for faculty and staff, Freeman said.

“They have high expectations of our university. They want NIU to deepen their learning; to challenge their assumptions; to give them the tools they need to affect social change; and to prepare them for careers not yet invented,” the president said.

“Learning about our students is exciting – but it is even more important that we are ready to learn from them and listen to their voices,” she added. “It’s on us to understand how they experience NIU and the world – so that we can reduce the obstacles they encounter, and provide the support they need to complete their degrees.”

Enter the Huskie Pledge, which aims to make NIU more affordable for Illinois families with household incomes of $75,000 or less. For qualifying full-time students with high school GPAs of 3.0 or higher, the Huskie Pledge Program will provide a grant to help completely cover first-year tuition and general fees.

“Whether a student comes from a single-parent home, a dual-income family, or if they are undocumented, the Huskie Pledge reflects our continued commitment to reducing barriers, creating opportunities and investing where we can make the difference,” she said. “It is unacceptable that more than half of students who leave NIU prior to graduation do so in good academic standing.”

Freeman took time Tuesday to salute NIU students and alumni who already are benefitting from their education here.

  • Princes Jeremie, an honors student majoring in biomedical engineering, came to NIU from Brooklyn, N.Y. She “has made it a priority to help others make NIU their home through her work in Admissions and in the Office of Military and Post-Traditional Student Services,” Freeman said.
  • Ian Pearson, a first-generation student from Rockford with a 4.0 GPA as a political science major, is NIU’s newly named Lincoln Laureate. Beyond serving as speaker of the Student Senate, he has taken on leadership roles for a number of student organizations and interned for NIU’s Office for Federal Relations.
  • Dale Brown, a former Huskie football player from Greenwood, Mo., is like many high-performing NIU student-athletes and graduate students: “successful on and off the field.” Brown, who graduated in May from the College of Business, dreams of owning his own culinary business – and served up piles of cinnamon rolls from his Dale’s Rolls bakery after Freeman’s address.

Freeman also cheered faculty whose “accomplishments underpin the national and international reputation of NIU as an engaged, student-centered, research university.”

“We boast that NIU professors stand with the best, not only for the personal attention and hands-on learning experiences that you provide to students, but also for your contributions to society through leading-edge research and artistry,” she said.

She calls August’s new faculty members “phenomenal.”

“Many were attracted to our university because they were drawn to our mission, vision and values – and to the students that we serve,” Freeman said.

“Almost all said that they ultimately came here because the administrators, faculty and staff that they met during the interview process were welcoming and supportive, and our campus felt like a place where they belonged,” she added. “And they do belong at NIU. We are committed to playing a key leadership and resource role to prepare society for a century of change.”

Changing society is part of Huskies Give Back, which begins in January.

“Our aim is to provide each full-time employee with one paid day to share your time and talents with charitable organizations, such as a food pantry, animal shelter or perhaps your child or grandchild’s school,” the president said. “Huskies are a community who care, and I want to continue to foster that as a university.”