When Alan Clemens attended a recent annual conference of the National College Access Network, which works to open the doors of higher education to underserved populations of students, he noticed something missing.
Representatives from colleges and universities were few.
“Higher education was heavily underrepresented,” says Clemens, an instructor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF).
“Some sessions were designed specifically to speak to college retention, but those were more sparsely attended,” he adds. “The primary emphasis being put particularly on college access for these populations was at the high school level.”
At the same time, Carolyn Pluim, acting chair of LEPF, was soliciting ideas from her faculty about the possible creation of a fellowship program.
Dollars were available from the Marguerite F. Key Expendable Fund for the College of Education, but Pluim needed a purpose – a focus – for those who would participate in an annual institute in DeKalb.
“Our department has been blessed by Marguerite’s generosity for a few years now,” Clemens says, “and while the funds were being used effectively to enhance various student programs in the department, Carolyn was looking for something more substantial, something that honored the scope of Marguerite’s commitment.”
Clemens proposed a program that would bring together high school principals from across NIU’s service region to share their innovative ideas and best practices for not only shepherding underserved students into college but also preparing them for success there.
Pluim loved the concept.
“The Marguerite F. Key Fellows Program is a project in line with the vision and passion Marguerite has for supporting the preparation of future educational leaders,” Pluim says. “The program will recognize the great work Illinois principals are doing, and provide them with specialized professional development and growth opportunities.”
Nominations will open July 1 for the first class of fellows, who will meet in June of 2018 for a series of workshops and dialogues.
“What we’re hoping to find is real evidence of innovation, energy and ingenuity that’s being brought to the table in service of this very poignant need, and to put additional focus on this innovation, to increase opportunities for students to successfully achieve their college dreams,” Clemens says.
“There is research that shows – and I personally believe this – that those students across the country who, at this moment are facing the most significant obstacles to college access and college success, are the country’s largest source of growth potential,” he adds. “I can’t see any more noble purpose, or more potentially powerful purpose for the future of our country, than empowering these underserved voices.”
A seven-member advisory committee will guide the ongoing framework and rationale of the program as well as the selection, and work, of the fellows.
The advisory committee will consist of representatives of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, local school districts and the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement.
Fellows need only serve one year, Clemens says, but are always welcome to stay involved.
Undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in college attainment and success, public educational policy or other related issues also can participate, possibly obtaining independent study or internship credit for administration of the program or assistance with the institute.
Students who seize those opportunities will witness a sharing of expertise – the wisdom and work of leading principals in the region – along with the possible births of partnerships or design of grant proposals.
It’s something Clemens says matches current thinking on campus – “President Baker has always been very interested in examining the factors that contribute to student success throughout their P-20 educational experience,” he says – as well as the values of Marguerite F. Key.
Key graduated from Northern Illinois State Teachers College in 1944 with a major in biology and a minor in music. She taught one year, and then earned her master’s degree at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.
During most of the next year, she worked in the Illinois Department of Public Health in Springfield as a health educator. When the Kellogg Foundation funded a program in Illinois to place a health educator on the staff of each state college, Key came to Northern.
After she married four years later and moved to Washington, D.C., where her husband worked with the National Education Association, she began a 40-year career in the Arlington Public Schools as director of guidance in a middle school.
In 1995, after the death of her husband, she returned to DeKalb, where she continues to live.
She was on the original committee to place a one-room school on campus, served for 12 years on the Development Committee of the College of Education and has been able to assist 10 non-traditional women in the college in obtaining scholarships through the Philanthropic Educational Organization.