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Fostering Community Resilience Through Creative Placemaking through University-State-City Partnerships: Webinar Summary

By Abigail Robbins, Program Associate, Economic Development, Community Engagement, & Governmental Affairs

panelists and picture from zoom

On March 25, 2021, APLU, the National Governors Association, and the National League of Cities held the third of four webinars as part of the IEP Universities: Catalyzing Next Generation University-State-City Partnerships for Economic Opportunity Webinar Series. This webinar titled, Fostering Community Resilience Through Creative Placemaking through University-State-City Partnerships, focused on the placemaking facet of economic engagement. Northern Illinois University was the highlighted institution based on its initiatives and collaboration with regional and state partners to foster strong regional partnerships. Northern Illinois University won the 2013 Place IEP Award in recognition of their efforts.

Michael Bartlett, Program Manager, Postsecondary Success Basic Needs Initiative at the National League of Cities introduced the panel. The panelists included Jesse Ruiz, Thomas McNamara, Bill Nicklas, Amy Jo Clemens, and Rena Cotsones. Each panelist discussed their experience as part of University-State-City partnerships in pursuit of fostering place-based collaboration and opportunity. Below are summaries of each panelist’s contribution.

Rena Cotsones, Chief Engagement Officer, Northern Illinois University, moderated the session. Before the discussion portion, Dr. Cotsones shared a bit about Northern Illinois University’s background and economic engagement impact on the local, regional, and state level. Dr. Cotsones asked salient questions to the other panelists that helped to illustrate the highly impactful partnerships across Illinois.

Bill Nicklas, City Manager, City of DeKalb, Illinois emphasized the importance of this relationship by illustrating the region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Nicklas described an ad hoc group organized by the university, local business, and governmental entities to create Dekalb County Unites. Dekalb County Unites is a coalition that shares information through a website about the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 situation as it has unfolded since March of 2020. This information was also disseminated via webinars, phone calls, and one-on-one consultations on the status of funding sources from government entities and local organizations.

Jesse Ruiz, Deputy Governor for Education, State of Illinois, explained the unique role that universities play in creating solutions in partnership with the government. One example Deputy Governor Ruiz depicted was the leading role faculty of public universities played in helping to advise Governor J. B. Pritzker of possible routes to continue education early in the pandemic. Deputy Governor Ruiz also highlighted the innovation happening across public universities in Illinois including the development of a COVID-19 saliva test and the subsequent creation of the SHEILD Illinois program. This program, created by IEP Designee the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, worked with the Governor’s office to expand testing access throughout the state. Deputy Governor Ruiz also described collaborative efforts between Northern Illinois University and the state to increase diversity in STEM. These collaborations include pipeline tutoring and bridge programs such as the Husky Pledge.

Amy Jo Clemens, Director, Center for P-20 Engagement, Northern Illinois University, spoke about how to identify productive partnerships when it comes to encouraging students of all ages in STEM. Dr. Clemens explained that the first characteristic of productive partnerships is finding external partners who share a similar belief that STEM is about transdisciplinary problem-solving rather than siloed disciplines of math and science. Dr. Clemens also discussed the importance of relationships with career stem professionals and employers such as the Argonne National Laboratory to prepare students for the workforce.

Thomas McNamara, Mayor of Rockford, Illinois highlighted the university-city development partnership between Northern Illinois University and Rockford. The first example Mayor McNamara shared was the jointly led initiative to build out broadband connectivity for the city of Rockford. The mayor noted that increasing broadband access plays a major role in Rockford’s economic development strategies. The second example Mayor McNamara shared was the NIU Rockford Promise Scholarship. This scholarship, also a jointly led effort, increases access to higher education for local students. The scholarship pays for all tuition and fees to attend NIU for students graduating from Rockford Public High School with a GPA over 3.0. The scholarship incentives students to work towards the minimum GPA requirement while also benefiting NIU by retaining local students.

While each panelist brought unique perspectives, the need for the continuation of university-state-city-led partnerships in advancing regional development was apparent in each panelist’s contribution. For more insight from the panelists, view the recording of the session here (access code:E2%?xB!9)

Inspired by what you’ve read here? Learn more about how to get engaged at www.APLU.org/SeekIEP and read more articles like this at www.aplu.org/iepblog. Stay tuned for more information on the last webinar of the APLU-NGA-NLC collaboration series!

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