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NIU President highlights University’s Regional Impact

Fueling the Region’s Economic Engine

America doesn’t make things anymore.

We’ve all heard that sadly common complaint, and maybe we’ve thought it true. But, I’m happy to say, the naysayers who spread that idea are entirely wrong.

Proof that our country is still working – still dreaming, still brainstorming, still building, still creating the kinds of jobs that forge a prosperous future – came earlier this week in Rockford.

I made trips Monday and Tuesday to the Forest City, the first to celebrate the news that the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute will open its first chapter there and, one day later, to mark the 20th anniversary of NIU-Rockford and exciting changes to the NIU EIGERlab.

For businesses and the people they employ, these announcements offered good news about the “stateline” region and illustrated the depth of our commitment to helping drive the economy.

Rockford’s DMDII chapter is “the place” for area small- and medium-sized manufacturers “to share ideas, develop and learn about industry-changing new technologies and contribute to the American manufacturing revolution.”

Those aren’t my words.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and other elected officials and local business leaders heard that from Dean Bartles, executive director of DMDII and chief manufacturing officer for UI LABS, of which the institute is a collaboration.

Dr. Bartles gave credit to NIU – and Rena Cotsones, head of the NIU Office for Regional Engagement-Rockford, in particular – for our partnership, leadership and stewardship in initiating, developing and creating the DMDII chapter model, which now will be replicated across the country.

Regional manufacturers that tap into the DMDII expertise will discover how to innovate together in ways that improve and accelerate production processes. While doing so, they will generate jobs, boost profits and share in work that restores America’s competitive edge around the world.

Our anniversary festivities Tuesday included the official launch of the NIU EIGERlab Coworking Space in what formerly was the NIU-Rockford library. Professionals with bright ideas and unlimited ambition can gather there to fire up their laptops, chat with kindred spirits and meet with business partners and mentors.

NIU EIGERlab also hosts the FastPitch Competition, inviting entrepreneurs to present their business plans in hopes of monetary prizes and invaluable exposure and networking. The level of energy and innovation there is infectious.

Beyond our initiatives to expand the Rockford region’s innovation capacity, we’re also making a difference in the lives of students there.

Many of the same faces at Monday’s DMDII celebration were familiar to me from our news conference in late August to launch the NIU-Rock Valley College Engineering Program. Students can complete NIU bachelor’s and master’s degrees without ever leaving the RVC campus.

Scholarships to NIU are available, once again, to the high school that wins the Bergstrom Stateline Quiz Bowl. Season Two began last month, and we’re thrilled to see the number of teams in competition has soared from 22 to 32.

Valuable scholarships also are one mission of our wonderful alumni in the NIU Rockford Alumni Club, which annually awards the David and Diane Graf Rockford Freshman Business Scholarship to high-achieving, well-rounded and deserving students from Boone, Winnebago, Ogle and Stephenson counties.

Continued engagement with the Rock River Valley is critical not only for the residents who are building and living productive lives there but for NIU as well. We want the region’s best and brightest to earn NIU degrees, keep our companies growing, create new businesses and maintain northern Illinois as the place that talented people love to call home.

Together forward,


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