Bringing people together for a common good has been a lifelong passion for Dr. Rena Cotsones.
As Chief Engagement Officer for NIU, Dr. Cotsones leads the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development, advancing the university’s public mission and providing leadership, partnership and support for faculty, staff and students interested in engaging with the broader region. She oversees the Center for Governmental Studies, the P-20 Center for Engagement, Northern Public Radio, the university’s three regional centers and field campus, NIU’s centralized conferencing and event management function, and NIU’s Public Engagement Networks. Dr. Cotsones is also actively engaged in a number of university-wide initiatives such as the development of the Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability and the new Strategic Development Team, looking for new ways to create, enhance and fund transformational university projects.
During her NIU career, Dr. Cotsones has worked with regional partners to create and implement collaborative approaches to advancing education, economic development, workforce development, and innovation initiatives in northern Illinois and Chicagoland. For example, she worked with NIU engineering, community college and industry leaders to create NIU Engineering @ RVC, a community-based, industry-integrated engineering baccalaureate completion program in Rockford, Illinois. This collaborative workforce solution has inspired the development of other innovative approaches to education and workforce development in the region and won the 2017 Award of Excellence for Talent + Place Development from the University Economic Development Association (UEDA).
Dr. Cotsones is actively engaged in the national dialogue on university engagement and outreach. She is a former Chair of the Executive Committee of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Council on Engagement and Outreach and is a current Executive Committee member of the APLU Commission on Community and Economic Engagement. She is a frequent speaker on economic and community engagement, a faculty member for the Engagement Academy and a Fellow of the Strategic Doing Institute.
She began her career as a television journalist after graduating from Illinois State University with a Bachelor of Science in mass communication. She holds a master’s degree in public administration and a Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University.
Amy Jo Clemens is the director of the Northern Illinois University Center for P-20 Engagement. She has spent 30 years in education, with more than 15 of those years in policy development, program delivery and student advocacy.
A key strategy she employs in the P-20 Center is to focus on system-level activities which improve students’ progress from the early childhood system through K-12 schools and into colleges and universities. This type of coordination will result in a P-20 education system that has fewer barriers for the most vulnerable students and works better for all Illinois children and families.
Amy Jo began working for the P-20 Center in 2016 as a senior research associate focused primarily on early childhood education (birth through 3rd grade) and career pathways in high school and higher education. She has led professional development for educators focused on Next Generation Science Standards and college and career readiness. She has also won state and federal grants to study the effectiveness of early childhood education programs in the state of Illinois.
Amy Jo brings to the P-20 center many years of experience as a classroom teacher, principal, and in a local regional office of education. She began her career as a teacher in a Montessori preschool before completing the Illinois teacher certification program at NIU and teaching high school chemistry and physics. She then served as the Principal of Malta High School, where she began writing grants.
Her experience in state educational policy and program delivery includes serving as an assistant superintendent for the Illinois State Board of Education and regional superintendent in Lee and Ogle counties.
Amy Jo met NIU alum Alan Clemens when they were both Graduate Assistants in Grant Hall 30 years ago. They married and have three grown children – Emily, Thomas and Nicholas. She likes to garden and read in her spare time (now that she has some spare time after years of attending her children’s athletic and arts events!).
Staci Hoste is the director of the region’s public radio stations. Northern Public Radio is a five-station network of public broadcasting services owned and operated by Northern Illinois University. 89.5 WNIJ, the network’s flagship station, is a charter member of NPR and programs news, information and entertainment throughout northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Meanwhile, 90.5 WNIU provides the region’s only source for 24-hour non-commercial classical music.
Hoste has been a lifelong listener to WNIJ and WNIU – first as a “prisoner of public radio” in her parents’ backseat, and now of her own enthusiastic accord. Hoste joined the stations in 2008 and became director in 2012. In her role, she oversees general station operations as well as the fundraising and community engagement strategies.
She also maintains and represents an active presence in the public radio industry nationally. Hoste is a director on the University Station Alliance (U:SA) governing board. The U:SA is a national organization focused on strengthening relations between stations and license holders like that of Northern Public Radio and Northern Illinois University. Work on the U:SA board is centered on building strategic alliances, sharing resources, guarding editorial integrity, benchmarking performance and reviewing governance. Hoste also engages on legislative issues related to public broadcasting throughout the state in her role on the executive committee of the Illinois Public Broadcasting Council.
Hoste also spends time working with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting on issues related to ensuring “universal service” and examining ways to maximize the public/private partnership nature of the Community Service Grants. And, in hopes of learning from others and maybe talking about something other than radio, Hoste serves on the NIU Friends of the Library board as well as the Northwestern Medicine Hospice board of directors.
Outside of the station, Hoste enjoys spending time outdoors, running, reading and keeping busy raising two “prisoners of public radio” of her own.
Brian Becker is Director of Outreach Operations for the NIU Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development. He currently manages the division’s budget, information technology infrastructure and services, conference and event services and off-campus facility operations at NIU-Hoffman Estates, NIU-Naperville, NIU-Rockford and the Lorado Taft Field Campus.
Becker has managed budgets, contracts, purchasing and off-campus facilities at NIU for over 23 years. He has served on various university committees and has helped plan and implement university initiatives. He also served on NIU’s Administrative Program Prioritization Task Force in 2016.
Prior to joining NIU, Becker was director of training and support at a company that provided administrative software to K-12 schools and was vice president for operations at an engineering and manufacturing company.
Becker holds a law degree and a bachelor’s degree in Economics, both from the University of Illinois.
Becker is proud of his two sons, both of whom received their bachelor’s degrees from NIU and have launched successful careers.
Jeannine East is our division’s content and project manager. She currently manages the NIU Esports Initiative project. In 2018-19, she coordinated the opening of the NIU Esports Arena in Neptune North Residence Hall and the NIU Esports Cafés at NIU Naperville and NIU Hoffman Estates. She enjoys collaborating with faculty, staff, students and the community to help build programs that support the benefits of competitive esports.
Jeannine also serves as the marketing content expert in OERD. Her background in writing, editing, marketing and data analytics help us create web and print content that is clear, concise and effective.
Before joining our division, Jeannine worked at NIU’s Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications division, managing the web team, project managing and editing large design projects for Creative Services, and writing and coordinating email communication for prospective students. Prior to NIU, she worked for 15 years at start-up internet marketing agencies in Chicago and Salt Lake City in a variety of roles including Strategic Partnership Manager, Senior Editor, and VP of Clientology.
Jeannine holds a bachelor’s degree in English from NIU, a Graduate Certificate in technical writing from NIU and a Certificate in esports management from University of California Irvine. Jeannine is a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP).
Mary Strub has been with the Northern Illinois University Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development since 2008, where she has been the senior business manager/administrative associate for multiple departments, including the Center for Governmental Studies and the EdSystems Center. In Mary’s current role as Director of Outreach Administration, she supports the division’s departments and centers by managing personnel decisions and processes, administering contracts and grants, creating and maintaining budgets, processing international employee paperwork, and implementing policies and procedures to support key initiatives. Mary worked in human resources at NIU (then called personnel) from 1982 to 1991 before working as a business and project manager in the private sector until her return to NIU in 2008.
Mary approaches her work with the goal of establishing the framework that will enable OERD to foster partnerships and engagement. She draws on her familiarity with university policies and procedures to support the outstanding research, programs and events that come out of the Division of Outreach. She builds strong working relationships with external clients and across campus to help manage the grants and contracts that fund many of the division’s efforts. Mary enjoys the wide array of work done in the division and the variety of challenges she encounters. Mary holds a BA in English from Northern Illinois University.