Good morning! It is an honor and pleasure to be here today as the Acting President of NIU and a proud resident of DeKalb, and to share this stage with a loyal NIU alumnus, Mayor Jerry Smith. The audience also contains a number of prominent current and former Huskies. I would like to recognize specifically NIU Trustee Tim Struthers, who contributes significantly to our university and our community.
I’d also like to mention and introduce four other members of NIU’s senior leadership who are here today:
- Vice President for Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development, Anne Kaplan
- Senior Associate Vice President for Academic Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer, Vernese Edghill-Walden
- Board of Trustees Liaison and Chief of Staff, Matt Streb;
- Vice President for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications, Sol Jensen
Anne, Vernese, Matt and Sol play important roles at NIU. In addition, they are residents of DeKalb County who care about the city of DeKalb.
Much has happened at NIU since last year’s State of the City Address: Perhaps most importantly, after 736 days, we finally have a budget and an appropriation. Accordingly, we can begin to reverse the damage done and restore financial stability to our institution. We will not be able to do everything we want and need to do immediately-- there is lot to reconcile. We are working through that- and also beginning the work needed to determine how and when we can address neglected employee compensation. Our dedicated employees deserve a raise. This is a priority for me personally. Realizing that objective will also be good for our community.
NIU has also had a number of leadership transitions:
- With my acceptance of this acting president role, NIU’s Senior Dean Chris McCord from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) has stepped up to serve as Acting Executive Vice President and Provost.
- Professor Judy Ledgerwood, the Director of Center for Southeast Asian Studies has agreed to a temporary appointment as CLAS dean.
- Associate Vice President for Finance Larry Pinkelton is acting as our chief financial officer.
- Professor Mark Cordes is the acting dean of our College of Law.
We also have two new permanent deans joining us this academic year:
- Donald Peterson in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology
- Fred Barnhart in the University Libraries
Together, these competent and committed members of the leadership team will help NIU maintain momentum. Our work will continue, change will occur, and we will make progress.
In the seven years I’ve been at NIU, I’ve seen the partnership between the university and the city of DeKalb expand and flourish. We work together to attract and grow new businesses, and to develop community leaders and entrepreneurs.
For example, the Leadership Symposium held this past March was a resounding success. The event brought together brought together about 100 aspiring leaders from NIU, the DeKalb Chamber Leadership Academy, and other local organizations. As reported by the Daily Chronicle, ”The day provided a true community partnership by bringing together multiple generations of aspiring leaders. Everyone was involved in this event for the purpose of building leadership in DeKalb. No politics, no hidden agendas, just terrific networking and discussions.”
The inaugural year of the IDEAL-NIU Intrapreneurship Program was highly successful, and the program is growing. This collaborative initiative provides NIU students with experience in researching markets, developing products, and building business plans on IDEAL product and service ideas. The two teams from the first cohort of nine students were successful in formulating business plans, and as a result, they finished the spring 2017 semester as paid interns. They are currently in the early phases of product development for their projects and IDEAL has filed a provisional patent on one of the technologies. A second cohort of fifteen students representing Business, Engineering & Engineering Technology, Political Science, Economics and Art and Design were selected this spring to work on selected IDEAL projects this summer. This fall, two teams comprised of those students will begin to develop business plans and pitches. Working from a location on Lincoln Highway, with the support of IDEAL and NIU, these students are literally inventing our future.
Last year at this time, we told you about a new program called Jobs Plus. This is a professional development program in which students who have jobs in DeKalb and Sycamore can participate in complementary educational experiences that focus on real-world, workplace issues. To date, more than 500 students and 20 local employers have participated in Jobs Plus. That’s an excellent start, and we’re anxious to increase further the number of participants. Employers tell us those students are more engaged employees who are more willing to consider staying with their companies after graduation. Moreover, this innovative program has gained national attention, being highlighted by a number of higher education organizations and publications, including the Educational Advisory Board.
I am also very enthusiastic about our collaborative efforts to make downtown DeKalb more attractive and more accessible to our students. This past February, the city of DeKalb, Proudly DeKalb, and NIU cooperated to bring ~65 NIU students downtown. The students were given a tour and provided with dinner and the opportunity to provide feedback related to downtown DeKalb revitalization and economic development. I attended that discussion at O’Leary’s, and I was impressed with the students’ ideas for improving retail and entertainment options. From my conversations with the Mayor, I know that the city is listening carefully to the students and allowing their ideas to inform business development efforts.
Our students also emphasized the importance of improving downtown transportation options, mentioning specifically the needs for street and sidewalk lighting, bike sharing stations, and more convenient bus service. To this end, NIU has been an active participant in the DeKalb Area Transportation Authority long-term planning process. We’ve been working on a new partnership between the Huskie Bus Line and the Voluntary Action Council transportation service that will increase the efficiency of both TransVAC and Huskie Bus Lines, and be a boon to our entire community. You know, improving transit in our region has far-reaching implications for employment, educational opportunities and overall quality of life. NIU is proud to be part of the collaborative effort to find solutions on that front, both for our students and for all local residents.
One of my top priorities for NIU is fostering pride in the university – both on campus and in across our community. In spite of some formidable challenges, NIU continues to do good work every day. The university’s mission is “to promote excellence and engagement in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, creativity and artistry, and outreach and service.” And our value proposition resides within that mission- Last month, the prestigious Brookings Institution recognized NIU as a leader among selective public research universities, because of its success at both providing social mobility for students of modest means and producing high-impact research.
In fact, NIU is distinguished from competitors by our success using knowledge creation to transform student lives and to inform society. This is possible because our faculty are highly accomplished teachers, scientists, scholars and artists who care deeply about our students’ success- and because our community is open to providing students, staff and faculty with new opportunities for teaching, learning, discovery and artistry.
For example, the local community has embraced NIU’s Supermileage Team. This student group from our College of Engineering and Engineering Technology has earned six top 3 finishes in the last eight years in national competition. This summer they won awards for creating a vehicle that gets 1,741 miles per gallon.
Another team from Engineering will soon be producing a solar-powered car. And before even starting that project, team members have been working this summer to help teams of middle-school and high-school girls compete in the ComEd Ice Box Derby, an event where old refrigerators are converted into go-karts. Sounds like fun- and I am sure it is- but it’s also more. Through these efforts, the NIU students are empowering young women to explore opportunities in STEM- and helping to develop our future workforce. Note- that competition is being held this Saturday in Chicago, in case any of you would like to see a kitchen appliance repurposed as a vehicle!
These are just two examples that illustrate how NIU’s excellence reflects the intersectionality of learning, discovery and engagement. There are many, many more, and together the city and university goals have the opportunity to create new narratives that build pride in our university and our community.
In this context, I commend the city for their work to date on the Annie Glidden North Corridor. This area includes neighborhoods where many of our students live. The changes that have occurred over time present challenges to our community. We are very pleased that the city is moving to address the issues.
And, as revitalization proceeds, we’re hopeful that there will be new, attractive opportunities for NIU that align with our mission and our engagement agenda. Where neighborhood revitalization has been successful in other college towns, universities have taken on strong roles in developing programs and opportunities for neighborhood residents. I’ve submitted a letter of support for the city’s current proposal, and we’ve provided public testimony on how an improved Annie Glidden neighborhood would help our enrollment efforts.
And we are putting a lot of effort into attracting new students. Our Enrollment Management and Marketing Communications area is also hard at work on new ideas for inspiring Huskie Pride throughout our community.
- If you haven’t gone to the NIU homepage in a while, check out our new website – it’s a very attractive and user-friendly site- and it was produced by talented university staff. NIU staff have also produced a new orientation guide called the NIU OneBook, and it includes information about the community for new students.
- Our new mayor, the NIU and DeKalb police chiefs and a host of other community leaders (including some of our trustees) have volunteered to help out with our NIU Welcome Days events – This has a very positive impact on students and their families (who often need reassurance about the community where they’re dropping off their young people for the year).
- NIU’s Marketing and Communications team is working on new materials that all of you can display in your businesses – Sol Jensen asked me to mention this and invite any of you with ideas to talk with him after this meeting or by phone or email.
And speaking of Sol – We are delighted to have him leading our enrollment efforts. Sol’s background includes work on many of the same student recruitment challenges that we face at NIU in terms of changing demographics and competition.
There are many fluctuations that take place throughout the enrollment cycle—particularly at this time of year—that makes providing projections very challenging. With that said, we know that the overall enrollment (total headcount) for NIU will be down again this year. Most of the decline comes from fewer returning students. As the incoming classes are smaller than those who came in 4-5 years ago (and are now graduating), we will see fewer total students. I expect this trend will continue for another year or two until our incoming classes become larger than our graduating classes.
The real positive news is that, first, based on where we stand today, we are showing another increase in our first-year retention rate. This is a critical first step in helping our NIU students achieve success and their educational and career goals. These results are a direct correlation to the excellent work and focus that is being dedicated to our retention efforts from across the university community. We all care about student success as stated directly in our university mission.
The other great news is that after several years of considerable decline, our incoming freshmen and transfer numbers are appearing very stable compared with last year. Despite the challenges we have faced—and will continue to face—as a state and an institution, this gives me great optimism and positive momentum to build upon.
We all know what a great place NIU is to receive an education. We’re going to improve how we tell our story and deliver our message to prospective students, their families, and the community.
The community includes many graduates of NIU. Our Alumni Association is looking at new ways to connect – and there are a lot of you out there. The Association is talking about:
- Hosting a variety of events in the community that will allow alumni and community members to engage with NIU by appealing to varied interests, including lectures, theater, art and music.
- They’re creating new ways for local alumni to plug into NIU through volunteerism. A new group called the Huskie PAC (stands for Proud Alumni Core) will match up local residents with volunteer opportunities across campus.
I believe in NIU, and despite all of the challenges we face, I’m optimistic about our future. We continue to serve our students and our region very well. And our impact is greater because of our collaboration with the city of DeKalb and the local business community.
Beyond the work of the city, there are three ways all of you can help strengthen NIU:
- When you hear a good news story about NIU, share it- by word of mouth or on social media.
- When you hear misstatements or incorrect information about NIU, challenge them is you have an opportunity to do so.
- Find ways to engage with our students, as well as our faculty and staff. When you have a job opening or a volunteer opportunity– call Career Services and get connected. Our goal is to have every business in town engage with at least one student each semester. If you have a new idea to share, and you can’t figure out who to call at NIU, speak to Jennifer Groce or call the President’s office. We’ll make sure you get to the right person or unit.
I thank you for your time this morning, and look forward to continuing the great work that we have undertaken together.