Exemplars of Engagement


Meaningful engagement with community partners is reciprocal – both sides give and both side benefit. It’s thoughtful and responds to true community needs. It unites the expertise and resources of the university and the community to address critical social issues. And it makes a lasting positive impact for the community and for NIU faculty, staff and students.

However, meaningful partnerships don’t just happen all at once. They require commitment, communication and trust to grow stronger over time.

Here are a few examples of meaningful partnerships that are helping to promote the public good.

COVID-19 Testing

Since 2020, NIU Professor of Biology Barrie Bode has partnered with other universities, public health professionals and the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District to develop and implement COVID-19 testing protocols to keep NIU and the surrounding community safe.

Early in the pandemic, when uncertainty abounded, Dr. Bode’s experience researching nutrient transporters and their role in cancer biology meant that he was knowledgeable about testing methods used to detect the COVID-19 causing virus. Dr. Bode quickly put this knowledge to work to serve the community. He established a partnership with the University of Illinois’s SHIELD team and leveraged NIU’s existing partnership with Northwestern Medicine to establish SHIELD testing at NIU, allowing for a safe return to campus in 2021

Later, as the pandemic progressed, Dr. Bode partnered with the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District to institute a COVID-19 wastewater surveillance testing program for NIU and DeKalb. This program would replace SHIELD testing and provide an early indicator of possible outbreaks. The SARS-CoV-2 Wastewater Dashboard provides a snapshot of community COVID levels. It is updated weekly and available to help community members and public health officials make informed decisions.

Dr. Bode is using his expertise – and the relationships he has built over many years – to serve the public good.

Lifetime Bonds Kane County

Since 2016, Professor of Sociology Keri Burchfield has led Safe Humane Chicago’s Lifetime Bonds program in Kane County. The program is a partnership with the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles, Aurora Animal Control, the Kane County Jail and Safe Human Chicago. It pairs incarcerated youth and adults with at-risk shelter dogs. Participants care for, socialize and train dogs using science-based, reward-based training techniques to build healthy relationships. The program fosters empathy and compassion among youth in juvenile detention and prepares the dogs for adoption.

Recently, Dr. Burchfield expanded the program to youth in DeKalb High School, in partnership with Tails Human Society.

Dr. Burchfield is an expert in criminology and criminal justice who researches the effects of neighborhood structure and community organization on crime prevention and control. She and her students have conducted research related to the Lifetime Bonds program, examining things like dog breed stereotypes and compassion fatigue among animal shelter workers. This research has taught NIU students to conduct effective research, and it has helped to inform and strengthen the Lifetime Bonds program.

Dr. Burchfield is putting her expertise into action and building strong partnerships to benefit humans and dogs throughout northern Illinois – helping to keep communities safer.

Rain Forest Conservation

Professor of Anthropology Leila Porter has spent more than 20 years forging partnerships in Bolivia to help protect the Amazonian rain forest, and the species that live there.

Porter first started working in Bolivia in 1997, when she set up a new research site to compare the behavior and ecology of monkeys for her doctoral dissertation. At that time, she also set a goal of protecting the research area, helping to ensure the survival of the primates, birds, plants and reptiles living there.

Her years of work paid off when the field site, now named the Tahuamanu Biological Field Station, was formally recognized by the Bolivian government as a regional conservation area.

The 7,680 conservation area is managed by the nonprofit Amazon Conservation in partnership with the Universidad Amazónica de Pando (UAP) and the regional government of Pando. Field research conducted by experts such as Dr. Porter continues to show the importance of biodiversity levels in this forest patch, at the confluence of two important rivers.

Dr. Porter has used her expertise to help develop an international network of scholars and conservationists dedicated to preserving this resource for the greater good.

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Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development
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