January All-College meeting focuses on student success, offers good news

During an all-college meeting focused on students and their success, Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and her administrative team made it clear how that objective aligns perfectly with the NIU College of Education’s vision statement.

Elish-Piper tailored the Jan. 7 gathering to put “a spotlight on the student experience and some of the feedback and some of the insights and ideas that the students have shared with us.”

“It’s all about our students. They inspire us. They challenge us. They learn from us. They motivate us. They push back. They make us better. They are truly the reason that we are all here, not only today but every day,” the dean said.

“Our students can’t graduate without the amazing people in this room – without our faculty and staff, without our advisors and supervisors and instructors,” she added. “Every person in this room contributes in so many meaningful ways.”

Several presentation slides featured photos and testimonials from current students about what they value and appreciate from their NIU education.

Many, Elish-Piper noted, cited the college’s abundance of hands-on learning opportunities.

“That real-world situation, that real-world application, that engaged learning, is a thread that runs throughout many of these student spotlights. That’s encouraging,” she said. “We’ve really been emphasizing that in our work, and we’re hearing from students – unprompted – that that’s one of the things that makes a difference for them and has really helped them be successful.”

For other students, said David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, success is coming from last semester’s re-enrollment initiative.

Working in coordination with NIU’s Financial Aid and Scholarship Office, the college offered one-time, $500 retention scholarships to qualified Huskies who needed to resolve financial holds on their accounts to return for the spring. That paid off for 10 students who are now back in class this week.

But Walker said he is equally encouraged by the response from students who didn’t need the college’s investment but were grateful for the outreach.

Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker
Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

“ ‘Thank you for paying attention to me. Thank you for communicating.’ A lot of them said, ‘Thank you for caring.’ That means a lot, at least to me personally,” he told the audience. “It’s like, ‘You know what? That’s what this is about: caring and students.’ That was really cool, so hopefully we’ll be able continue this.”

Research activity creates success for students as well, said Bill Pitney, associate dean of Research, Resources and Innovation.

As he highlighted recipients of funding from the college’s internal grant awards, and their “seed monies to scale up some projects,” Pitney pointed to another outcome produced by the program.

“What I’ve observed is our faculty take that opportunity to engage our students in either the conceptualization and design process, data collection, data analysis or even being research participants as part of the study,” he said. “I think that’s an important piece for us, and our students benefit from that.”

Good news abounded during the presentation.

Fall 2020 enrollment projections are encouraging, Walker said. From this time last year to now, he said, applications from new freshmen and new transfers are up more than 13 percent, admits into degree programs are up 15 percent and confirmations are up more than 16 percent.

Meanwhile, he said, NIU leadership is impressed by new degree programs in the College of Education and other “really cool, cutting-edge developments that matter” in the course catalogue.

“We are held to a very high standard here, and rightfully so. We’re seen as innovators curricularly, and that didn’t happen by accident. This has been happening for many, many years. Curriculum is the purview of the faculty, so you should be really proud.”

Among those innovations is the upcoming Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a specialization in Behavior Analysis, a collaboration between the departments of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations and Special and Early Education.

Courses from the departments of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment and Kinesiology and Physical Education laid the groundwork for the college’s upcoming minor in Esports.

Esports is “a billion-dollar business in the United States,” Walker said, and those courses have packed NIU classrooms and yielded “awesome feedback” from students.

“We’re one of about 10 or 11 schools in the United States – most of them are actually private, liberal arts colleges – that have any notable transcription markers curricularly with esports. Most of them are certificates,” he said. “We’re offering, as of August, a minor. A lot of students have asked for this, and we answered the call. We’re looking for really big things from our minor in Esports, which will help other students potentially matriculate into our majors.”

Pitney told the audience that research productivity is trending up.

“This displays a level of growth, and I think it’s indicative that we’ve got a lot of faculty positioning themselves as scholars in their disciplines,” he said.

“As I think about our faculty roles, I view us as stewards of our disciplines, and as stewards of our disciplines, one of the most important things we can do is influence our knowledge base,” he added, “and it’s clear that our faculty are doing that.”

So are graduate students in the NIU College of Education, Elish-Piper said.

The dean long has aspired to create a program of research-practice partnerships “where our graduate students can have an opportunity to really solve problems of practice that matter and that will have an impact on the institution where the problem of practice arose.”

Her dream is coming to fruition thanks to a pilot program being launched by Laura Ruth Johnson, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment.

Laura Ruth Johnson
Laura Ruth Johnson

“Laura invited me to meet with some leadership in a charter school network in Chicago that’s focused as a group of alternative schools that works with closely with Chicago Public Schools for kids who just have not made it in other Chicago public schools,” Elish-Piper said.

Johnson “has put together a small team of graduate students who are very interested in working in those kinds of spaces and working with the schools to identify those problems of practice,” the dean added, “which ultimately may become the focus for these students’ doctoral dissertations.”

And as it begins, Elish-Piper is thinking about what will develop next.

Beyond wanting to see this first initiative succeed and grow, she also hopes that it will “inspire us to think about other ways that we could partner with other institutions or agencies or groups that might provide that really compelling opportunity for our doctoral students to do research, not only that’s meaningful to them professionally but that has an immediate impact that makes a difference.”

Elish-Piper also delivered applause and congratulations from the NIU Board of Trustees.

All NIU deans were asked to appear before the board to deliver 15-minute presentations on their colleges; Elish-Piper’s turn came Nov. 14. She summarized that talk, and showed the same slides, during last week’s all-college.

“They were congratulating me on all the amazing work that you do,” she said, “and all the amazing outcomes that you have, and that our students have, and the impact our alumni have.”

She centered her message to the trustees on two priorities found in the college’s Strategic Action Planning Framework: Innovative Practice and Intentional Growth.

Innovative Practice is seen in curricular enhancements as the college is “continually looking at our curriculum, updating it to make sure that it’s not only current and cutting-edge,” she said, “but also to make sure that it’s meeting the needs of our students and the profession, and that we’re really preparing people for the careers and the opportunities that exist today.”

Another example is the Social Justice Summer Camp, a highly successful initiative of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction that will take place for the fourth consecutive year this June.

“Instead of just being a summer camp for folks to come and immerse themselves and learn and reflect and grow and collaborate, we are now offering a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Curriculum and Cultural Pedagogies in Social Justice,” Elish-Piper said.

“Taking that idea of a summer workshop, having it grow, refining it, getting a sense of the interest and the demand, and then growing a degree program is really an exciting example of that notion of innovative practice: You try something, and you see where it goes – and, in this case, it’s going far.”

Laurie Elish-Piper
Laurie Elish-Piper

Looking at International Growth, Elish-Piper told the trustees about the College of Education’s revenue-producing delivery of its coursework far beyond DeKalb to meet the needs of the region.

That includes 40 online and/or off-campus cohorts of students in various programs, including the new 2+2 program in Elementary Education offered at Elgin Community College as well as the contracted cohorts of career advancers.

“I wanted the trustees to know that we’re not sitting waiting for everyone to come to DeKalb, especially our graduate students,” she said, “that we are taking our programs to them, to make those programs accessible so that they can meet their career and professional goals.”

Please enjoy some photos from the Jan. 7 all-college events! Click on the photos to open larger versions.

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