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Project Title:NIU Regional Engagement Office in Rockford, IllinoisInstitution Name:Northern Illinois University Innovation Category:Research and Regional Stewardship Project Director:Rena Cotsones, Assistant Vice President, Regional Engagement/RockfordContact Information:(815) 753-0834, rcotsones@niu.edu Website:http://www.niu.edu/outreach/about/People/Regional_Engagement_Rockford.shtml
Project Description:The Office for Regional Engagement/Rockford was established in 2009 to create a comprehensive engagement strategy for NIU in the Rockford region, and this investment has resulted in some of NIU’s most significant, innovative and enduring community partnerships. Rockford is home to one of three NIU regional centers. Whereas all three regional centers provide graduate and undergraduate classes, as well as continuing professional education and conference facilities for businesses and organizations, the NIU-Rockford office has been able to develop opportunities above and beyond academic program delivery and conferencing functions.
Objectives:

The NIU Office of Regional Engagement/Rockford is collaborating with employers, economic and workforce development professionals, governments, foundations and educational entities (K-12, community colleges, and higher education) to:

·  Develop a comprehensive economic development strategy for the Rockford region

·  Increase educational attainment in the Rockford region

·  Improve K-12 outcomes in the Rockford public schools

·  Create a culture of innovation in Rockford area businesses

·  Ensure a pipeline of qualified professionals for high-tech businesses

These objectives and the ambitious Rockford engagement agenda reflect a long-standing commitment by NIU to the region, founded on four principles of connection: Lifelong learning; Partnerships; Technology; and Engagement.

Outcomes:

NIU contributes to job growth and workforce development in Rockford as a result of initiatives coordinated by the Office for Engagement/Rockford:

·  The Jobs Innovation Accelerator Challenge awarded $2.4M to a collaborative of NIU, Rock Valley College, the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, and the EIGERlab incubator-accelerator.

·  A new degree completion program to support the local aerospace industry is focused on seamless, cost-effective transition of high potential STEM students from Rock Valley College to the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

·  The NIU Mathematics Department is partnering with industry and community organizations to provide teacher professional development for Rockford Public Schools (RPS).

Challenges/Problems Encountered:Rockford is a challenged urban community with high unemployment and low educational attainment, struggling to break free of a Rust Belt label and mentality. It has been important to focus on raising educational aspiration just as much as educational attainment. As we focus on high-tech workforce development for the aerospace cluster, we have worked with RPS and other partners to create remediation, counseling and mentorship opportunities to ensure paths for success for local students.  Similarly, we have focused on network-building to connect NIU and large companies with small local companies and entrepreneurs to encourage innovation and professional development. 
Evaluation Approach:The engagement agenda was created based on an analysis of numerous data sources, existing engagement in community leadership networks and consultation with partners. Indicators of success include various measures of educational attainment, participation in classes and programs, and attraction and creation of new resources and programs to address issues we are trying to impact. A Rockford engagement advisory group has been formed to help the NIU professional staff validate and support approaches and review outcomes.
Potential for Replication:A university engagement agenda can be replicated in any community. Prerequisites include demonstrating diligence and transparency with data and aligning stakeholders’ understanding of the issues. NIU, in collaboration with local partners, creates an agenda that develops a set of objectives and pathways for leveraging existing university/community expertise and resources and creating new ones. The development and facilitation of local networks within the university and the community is the key role of the university professional guiding the engagement agenda.
CEO-to-CEO Contact:John G. Peters , Presidentjpeters@niu.edu
(815) 753-9500
Date Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012