History of Real NIU Club

Project REAL logoProject REAL is an educational Teacher Quality Enhancement grant that provides a partnership between Northern Illinois University and Rockford area schools. The goal of the grant is to enhance the academic experiences of Rockford students and educators while providing educational opportunities through the utilization of resources (i.e. people, programs, materials) through NIU.

In June of 2005, NIU hosted a four-day academic/college experience camp, called “The REAL NIU Experience”, for 35 freshmen from Jefferson High School in Rockford. Funded by Project REAL, no one was sure how well it would go, or if the students would gain anything from coming to camp. The camp director, Judy Cox-Henderson, just knew that, if you want high school students to really get interested in college, they had to see all aspects of college life, not just classes. So, she created all kinds of fun activities to let the high school students see what the life of a college student was like: eating dorm food, staying up late playing cards in the lounge, going to the Huskie Den, and, of course, going to classes. But she never dreamed that this college experience would have such a huge impact on the campers.

Toward the end of camp, one of the campers, a student by the name of Jose Salazar, started campaigning for a repeat experience for the students who had attended The REAL NIU Experience. His idea was to form a club that could do fundraising (host school dances, execute car washes and bake sales, and attempt to receive corporate sponsorship) to support a second year of camp. It was because of Jose’s tireless advocacy for a fundraising club that NIU Club was born.

In the first year of NIU Club, membership was limited to the “alumni” of camp and there were about 20 active members. That year, the club members sold pom-poms and hand-knitted scarves, and also hosted Hip Hop Nite at the school. As a reward, the club members were allowed to go on two field trips to NIU, one in the fall and one in the spring.

The REAL NIU Experience was funded for a second year by Project REAL, and this time, a group of freshmen came to camp, along with the first group of camp alumni. With a second group of freshmen attending camp, a huge number of new members for NIU Club soon followed. Word of the NIU Club began to spread around JHS, and soon there were over 65 members! (NIU Club now accepts new members who have not yet attended camp.) In addition to a growing membership, NIU Club also expanded its mission beyond a fund-raising club.

The second year of NIU Club saw the addition of two lock-ins, or gigantic slumber parties, held at NIU. In the fall, NIU Club members attended NIU’s Homecoming game and then spent the evening in the Huskie Den and overnight in Anderson gym. No one got much sleep, but everyone had a great time. In the spring, NIU Club members attended actual college classes and were required to take notes on the differences between college and high school.

Another new aspect of the NIU Club mission, starting with the second year, was providing service for the community. Club members were able to earn points for participating in a variety of service projects, such as the Empty Bowls project, Christmas caroling at a nursing home, and helping out at an elementary school fun fair.

NIU Club continued its fund-raising activities as well, hosting J-Hawk Idol (a talent show), and trying to host a dance (Shake Yo Shamrock) which, unfortunately, was cancelled.

In June of 2007, three groups of Jefferson students attended The REAL NIU Experience, making the total number of J-Hawks at NIU a whopping 90. Camp took place during two separate weeks, though, because Miss Judy couldn’t imagine trying to keep track of 90 high school students. The NIU Club members, old and new, are all looking forward to getting started on another year of great activities.