New chief outlines bold plan for NIU

President Doug Baker unveiled a bold plan for Northern Illinois University’s future Wednesday, saying that he will work to dramatically expand internship opportunities, try to match every student with an alumni mentor and endeavor to ensure that every graduate is employed within six months of graduation.

Baker’s comments came during ceremonies marking his inauguration as the 12th president in NIU history. Baker, 57, officially came on board July 1 after spending eight years as the executive vice president and provost at the University of Idaho.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be entrusted with the responsibility of leading a venerable institution with nearly 120 years of history. I am thrilled, humbled and excited to stand before you today as president of Northern Illinois University,” he told a full house at the Carl Sandburg Auditorium of the Holmes Student Center.

The event was a celebration of NIU student success.

It featured live, filmed and dramatic interpretations of testimonials from students who have overcome obstacles, faculty who have gone to great lengths to care for students and alumni who are eager to return to campus and share their advice and successes with current students.

All of those things, Baker said, will be important aspects of sharpening NIU’s focus on student career success, which he believes must be the ultimate goal as NIU strives to reinvent itself for excellence.

“Today, at NIU, we find ourselves in a position where we can assume leadership in forging what I shall call the ‘New University.’ If the vision I am sharing with you today comes about, I believe the ‘New University’ will once again claim the prideful allegiance of its faculty, students and alumni, but this pride will be based not on nostalgia, sentiment and football victories, but on continuing participation in the life of the mind,” Baker said, using language borrowed from the inaugural remarks of NIU’s sixth president, Rhoten A. Smith.

“It seemed appropriate,” Baker said, “because NIU once again stands at a crossroads.”

“It is a critical time for higher education in this country. The world around us has changed much more rapidly and decisively than it has within our halls,” said Baker, who made the case that the university should prepare students to thrive in all facets of life.

“A university focused on student career success provides students with a deep and meaningful body of knowledge to help them succeed in their careers. It is not a vocational school…but rather an institution that stresses creativity, communication and critical-thinking skills.”

According to Baker’s vision, a university dedicated to student career success will place a premium on:

• Mentorship – Baker announced that NIU will strive to offer peer mentors for university freshmen and tap some of its 225,000 alumni to mentor sophomores, juniors and seniors.

• Internships – Noting that the No. 1 predictor of student career success is whether students complete an internship during college, Baker said NIU will endeavor to find internship opportunities for every student who wishes to have one.

• Career Success – With university resources focused on career success, Baker said it is his goal to ensure that within six months after graduation, every graduate will have a job in his or her chosen field, be enrolled in a graduate program or be pursuing another endeavor of his or her choice (for example, starting a family, joining the Peace Corps, etc.).

“This is a bold statement and a big challenge,” Baker said of the final goal. “But we are up to it. We have to be.”

“Another aspect of the focus on student career success will be working to create a premier living-learning environment that will help attract and retain students,” Baker said. Toward that end, he has already been reaching out to local leaders and discussing ways to create a “cool college town” atmosphere where students and faculty can thrive.

Achieving those goals will require major adjustments to the way the university does business, Baker acknowledged.

Those efforts began in October when the president instituted significant structural changes, including: breaking the Division of Finance and Facilities into two separate units; creating a new Division of International Affairs; centralizing all university marketing efforts; and implementing a new chief financial officer position to completely restructure the university’s budgeting procedures and align finances with new priorities.


–News Bulletin news sources