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Contact: Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs
May 4, 2006
DeKALB, Ill. — While the “guest of honor” was not quite of legal drinking age, that did not stop faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology from gathering last month to toast 20 years of success for the college.
The April 21 event included an afternoon open house at the college and an evening dinner for more than 200 guests at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center. The celebration was sponsored in part by one of the college's strongest corporate supporters, Hamilton Sundstrand.
“Now that we are out of our teen years, we are mature, responsible, forward-looking and proactive,” Dean Promod Vohra proclaimed at the evening event. “We have proven our viability, are certain of our future and very proud of our heritage.”
That a dean, especially one who holds a degree from CEET, could stand before a room full of alumni and make such a declaration seemed highly improbable a quarter century ago.
While NIU has had courses in technology and engineering-related fields almost since the inception of the university, the goal of opening a full-fledged college of engineering was elusive. It became a reality only after a determined lobbying effort by NIU leaders and manufacturers in the region who pleaded with the state to help them overcome a shortage of qualified engineers.
The legislature finally gave its blessing in 1985, and the university wasted no time in creating CEET, opening its doors the following fall using rented space in a Sycamore industrial park to house many of its programs for nearly a decade.
From those humble beginnings, the school has grown into a respected institution that enrolls more than 1,500 students per year and attracts millions of dollars in government and private funding for research annually. The school also has graduated nearly 7,500 highly skilled engineers, most of whom populate the factories and laboratories that fuel industries vital to the economic health of the region.
That CEET has come so far so quickly is truly amazing, NIU President John Peters said.
“Twenty years is the blink of an eye in terms of creation, build-up and maturing of a new academic college,” Peters told the crowd. “That we have done so well in such a relatively short period of time is a testament to the skill and dedication of those college leaders, past and present, who've made things happen.”
Since 1995, the college has been housed in an ultra-modern, 125,000-square-foot building comprised largely of modern laboratories where students get hands-on opportunities to apply what they learn in the classroom.
That practical approach has made the college a valued source of talent for Illinois industries and has helped CEET build a national reputation: Last year the college was ranked 32nd in the nation on U.S. News and World Report's rankings of engineering programs where the highest degree offered is a master's.
While pleased with that recognition, Vohra hopes such accolades are only a beginning.
“In our first 20 years, we have developed excellence in educating students, and that will always be one of our strengths. However, as we mature and move forward, our goal is to become equally respected for our excellence in research,” Vohra said.
As evidence that CEET is already moving in that direction, he points to the college's growing reputation for research in a wide range of areas including noise and vibration cancellation, nanotechnology, tribology and hydrogen fuel cell development.
The dean also wants the college to be one of the first resources that manufacturers throughout the region turn to when they need help developing a product, improving a process or laying out a new factory. One of CEET's most ambitious efforts in that regard is underway in Rockford , where the college's Rapid Optimization of Commercial Knowledge (ROCK) program is working with local businesses to help them become important links in the Department of Defense supply chain.
Beyond those ventures, Vohra also expects that the college will continue to work on creating its first Ph.D. program. The contemplated doctoral program in nanosciences would be a collaborative effort with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
With so many new initiatives under way, Vohra told those who were on hand to celebrate the college's past that the best is still ahead. “As impressive as the accomplishments of our first two decades have been, it is the future that is truly exciting,” Vohra said. “In the years ahead, we will build upon that success and transform the college into an institution of regional prominence and national recognition.”