When Pettee Guerrero, NIU alumna and director of the NIU National Safety Education Center, was tapped to lead NIU Continuing and Professional Education (CPE), she drew on her experience with community engagement and lifelong learning to envision an expansive program to meet 21st century workforce needs. She’s spent the past year expanding CPE’s online presence and course offerings to better serve the needs of working professionals in the region.
“Our mission has always been to make rewarding careers possible through quality professional education,” says Guerrero. “We’re here to create accessible learning opportunities for individuals, organizations and the community in order to develop professionals and the regional workforce.”
Guerrero is excited to get the word out about NIU Continuing and Professional Education, which she describes as a “hidden gem in our community.”
NIU CPE offers non-credit and certification prep courses in human resources, project management, facilities management and occupational safety. The courses are helpful for both early career and mid-career professionals who would like to expand their skills or transition into a new area.
Guerrero notes that these non-credit courses complement the degree programs offered at NIU and can serve as a steppingstone toward NIU bachelor’s and master’s programs. “For example, many people come here to take safety courses with CPE, they really enjoy them, and then they decide to continue their education by earning their degree in the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology,” says Guerrero.
“On the other hand,” Guerrero continues, “many of our students already have their undergraduate degrees from NIU, and they come to us to earn their certification because they’ve had a great experience at NIU and because – just like me – they’re passionate NIU alumni and want to continue their education here.”
To say Guerrero is proud to be a Huskie is a bit of an understatement. The NIU alumna, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, has been connected with NIU since 2012. She’s always been a passionate supporter of NIU and a passionate advocate for education and community outreach. In her various roles as a student and later employee, Guerrero has helped to organize STEM Fest, been active in the Society of Women Engineers, created “STEM Divas” programming to get more girls interested in STEM fields, and competed as part of the NIU robotics team.
Guerrero has brought her dedication to community engagement and outreach to CPE, which is housed in the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development. She’s also brought a sense of curiosity and a willingness to try new things while continuing to build on the established strengths of the unit.
“For the past 20 years, out of more than 200 educational partners of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), NIU CPE has been in the top ten, and we’re really proud of that,” says Guerrero. “As the new director, my goal is to continue that placement in the top ten and continue to offer this high quality education to the community, while also expanding and adding new offerings.”
Among the changes Guerrero has made is to expand CPE’s online presence with a blog and free short webinars, which offer expert knowledge to the community and let potential CPE students meet the unit’s expert instructors, who are current professionals in their fields with many years of experience.
Some webinars address specialized topics such as how to handle an OSHA amputation inspection, while others offer more general introductions to a professional field, such as trends in facilities management or how to improve project management through effective communication. The CPE blog offers an even wider range of information on career planning, employment best practices, Lean principles and risk management, among other topics.
Guerrero is also quick to point out CPE’s custom courses, which can be offered to a company’s full workforce, in person at NIU, onsite at the employer’s location or online. “We’re currently doing a custom project management program, training all the supervisors for a very large organization,” she says. “We’ve developed a customized, year-long project management training program based on their needs.”
Safety training on location is also a popular CPE program – offered by NIU’s National Safety Education Center, which is now part of CPE and is the only authorized OSHA Training Institute Education Center in Illinois. “Our safety instructors will come to a company’s facility, evaluate the worker risks and build a custom safety training program based on their specific needs,” Guerrero says.
When asked why she’s passionate about professional development and continuing education, Guerrero offers her own experience as an example.
“Quality professional development is good for both employers and employees,” she says. “It’s good for employers because of the simple fact that a well-trained, knowledgeable employee is better equipped to serve the company. It’s also good for employees because it helps them become more confident and successful in their current job or job search.”
“To speak for myself, when I take professional development classes I feel more confident. I feel more prepared and useful to my staff and the community because I’ve learned something new,” Guerrero adds. “Over the past year, just like everyone else, I focused on all the programs we had to prepare and all the challenges we had to address, and I forgot about my own professional development. Recently I started studying for my Certified Safety Professional exam, and I spent hours, staying up all night to study because I was so motivated and it made me feel so good to be learning. I feel more useful to my staff and happier in my professional life.”
NIU Continuing and Professional Education is part of the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development and is dedicated to supporting the regional workforce and making rewarding careers possible through quality professional development. Learn more on the NIU CPE website.