At NIU, collaboration and innovation go hand in hand

Gerald Blazey
Gerald Blazey

If you were to sum up the vision of Northern Illinois University’s Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships, you might do it in a word: collaboration.

We are committed to helping expand the university’s many partnerships with community, government, businesses, industries and cultural organizations. Together, we can better address educational, economic, entrepreneurial and research challenges throughout our region.

And, together, we can better provide opportunities that sharpen our students’ skills and better equip the workforce of tomorrow.

This commitment was evident just a few weeks ago, when NIU and Discover Financial Services, based in Riverwoods, announced a new program that will provide 40 to 50 tech-savvy NIU students each semester with on-campus opportunities to help research and develop new technologies for the company.

The “Discover Campus Innovator Program” will kick off this fall in “71 North,” the university’s collaborative space for innovation centrally located on campus at Founders Memorial Library.

The program is a win-win situation for Discover and NIU, and our hard-working students stand to benefit most.

Juniors and seniors selected for the Discover Campus Innovator Program will be paid to work on and help develop new Discover technologies in the areas of mobile-software development, web-application coding and person-to-person payment systems.

Without having to leave campus, they will experience Discover’s company culture, make connections with working professionals, tackle real-world challenges and get a chance to present their work and ideas to company mentors.

Discover plans to hire or rehire students for a new round of participants and projects each semester – so the program has real potential to impact many of our students over time.

At NIU, we strive to provide our students with opportunities to develop what they’re learning in the classroom by applying it in the outside world. These types of experiences promote deep learning and give our students a competitive edge when they enter the job market.

We’re excited about the Discover Campus Innovator Program, and while it’s unique in its breadth and on-campus location, it’s one of many examples of university collaborations with external entities that benefit our students and the northern Illinois region.

In 2016, we announced the Ideal-NIU Intrapreneurship Program – designed to give students real-world experience bringing new products to market. The ongoing effort has been a huge success, with 35 students having participated to date in the program with the Sycamore-based Ideal Industries Inc. Additionally, seven of those students accepted jobs with the company following graduation.

This spirit of collaboration exists not only in our division but across the NIU campus.

The NIU College of Business Experiential Learning Center, for example, connects teams of the very best students with accomplished executives. Over the course of a 16-week collaboration, NIU students apply their energies and talents to help solve cross-functional business issues.

Meanwhile, through our Engineers in Residence program, our faculty and graduate students partner with local industries to solve real-life challenges and help those companies to remain competitive and successful in the global marketplace.

Beyond that, through a multitude of internships and collaborations with other businesses, schools, hospitals, cities and nonprofit organizations, NIU students frequently learn on the job and bring fresh perspectives to the workplace.

NIU’s external partnerships are essential to the student and faculty experience, as well as to the health of the university and the well-being of our region. And it’s our firm belief that collaboration sparks innovation.

Anyone wishing to learn more about 71 North or collaborative opportunities at NIU can call Karinne Bredberg at 815-753-1125.

• Gerald Blazey is vice president for research and innovation partnerships at Northern Illinois University.

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