Rena Cotsones has been tapped to lead the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development following the retirement in June of long-time administrator Anne Kaplan.
Cotsones will be the first to hold the new title of Chief Engagement Officer. As Kaplan’s successor, she will become Senior Associate Vice President and report directly to the president. Cotsones has been with the university since 1999 and has served as Associate Vice President of the division for ten years. She will take on the new position July 1.
The Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development was established in 2000 and includes such outward-facing programs as the Center for P-20 Engagement, the Center for Governmental Studies, the regional centers in Hoffman Estates, Rockford and Naperville, the Lorado Taft Field Campus, Northern Public Radio, and a portfolio of programs aimed at building university-community partnerships, developing regional networks and supporting the people who live in the NIU service region.
“Dr. Cotsones is a national figure in the university engagement area and I feel confident that she’ll continue to bring best practices to NIU’s program,” said Anne Kaplan. “Her ability to bring people together and formulate strategies will be more important than ever in the coming years.”
Cotsones, who holds a master’s in public administration and a Ph.D. in political science, has held a variety of positions with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), including membership on the executive committee of the Commission on Economic and Community Engagement, and chairpersonship of the Council on Engagement and Outreach.
In 2013 she chaired a task force that guided the university toward an inaugural APLU award for creating regional innovation and economic prosperity. She also served on the board of directors of the University Economic Development Association (UEDA).
During her tenure at NIU, Cotsones contributed significantly to the creation of NIU Engineering at RVC, a workforce development solution for a regional aerospace cluster centered in Rockford, and acquisition of NIU EIGERlab, a Rockford-based business incubator/accelerator. She has led the development of NIU’s Public Engagement Networks with Dean of Libraries Fred Barnhart. She currently co-chairs DeKalb County UNITES, a coalition of university and business leaders creating support mechanisms and educational programming for individuals and organizations affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Cotsones will continue to manage a portfolio of regional engagement initiatives in addition to her new leadership role.
“Engagement is integral to the public university mission and more important now than ever before as our region and nation seek innovative solutions and strategies to respond to the adverse impacts of the pandemic,” said NIU President Lisa Freeman. “Dr. Cotsones is a creative and effective collaborator and our university will benefit from her leadership.”