Freeman says NIU’s ‘efforts are yielding results’ in State of the University address

NIU president Freeman looked back on the year and into the future in her annual address

NIU+President+Lisa+Freeman+and+Director+of+Employee+Experience+Cathy+Doederlein+answer+questions+on+stage+following+the+State+of+the+University+Address+on+Nov.+29.+%28Sean+Reed+%7C+Northern+Star%29

Sean Reed

NIU President Lisa Freeman and Director of Employee Experience Cathy Doederlein answer questions on stage following the State of the University Address on Nov. 29. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

By Colin Kempsell, Senior News Reporter

DeKALB – NIU President Lisa Freeman reflected on a year of accomplishments Tuesday in her annual State of the University address, outlining future plans for increased leadership, student success and sustainability projects in her speech.

Introduced to the Altgeld Hall’s auditorium stage by Cathy Doederlein, NIU Director of Employee Experience, Freeman summarized the university’s past year of returning to fully in-person classes.

“The return to a more traditional, fully in-person fall semester has been a welcomed experience,” Freeman said. “We are at our very best and strongest when we are together.”

Freeman’s main goal for her address this year was to highlight three major areas of growth for NIU: shared leadership, student success and innovation.

“We are investing time and resources into more on-the-job learning experiences, networking opportunities and purposeful professional development for our faculty and staff,” Freeman said.

Freeman said that NIU’s Emerging Faculty Leadership Program and Staff Development Academy are examples of increased shared leadership at NIU.

“Collaboration was envisioned as a crucial moving arm driving collective progress,” Freeman said.

Freeman said she was impressed by NIU’s year of record first-year enrollment, first-generation representation and the move-in experience during Welcome Week, and that she owes the continued student success on campus to these milestones.

“Our Huskies are forging brand-new paths for themselves, their families and their communities,” Freeman said. “That takes incredible courage and determination.”

Freeman said the hiring of George Middlemist as chief financial officer and Clint-Michael Reneau as vice president of student affairs were important to her.

“Our efforts are yielding results,” Freeman said. “This past year, we were more intentional, bringing people together and tapping into the diverse talents, expertise and viewpoints of our community to create solutions and reach our goals.”

These accomplishments also come with challenges, as the university plans to increase engagement and enrollment in the student body.

“We are responsible at all stages for helping undergraduate and graduate students achieve their dreams,” Freeman said. “We must all be involved in exploring more-tailored approaches to recruiting and retaining students, closing equity gaps, embracing accountability and driving progress.”

Innovation among students, faculty and staff took high importance toward the conclusion of the address.

Freeman said that promoting excellence among one another is integral, encouraging faculty and staff to honor those that go above and beyond within their disciplines at NIU.

Along with this advice came Freeman’s enthusiasm for the university’s future Center for Community Sustainability.

“There is a pressing need for leadership, expertise and effort focused on sustainability and climate science, and NIU has enviable capability in both areas,” Freeman said. “NICCS, as it is known for short, will strengthen and intensify sustainability research.”

To this end, Freeman also announced the Sustainability and Climate Action Planning Task Force’s plan to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or earlier, with a draft expected to be announced by Earth Day of 2023.

Freeman also acknowledged a growing movement for more staff appreciation at NIU, announcing an expansion to the staff awards program.

Included in the expansion are new staff awards for student impact, rising staff innovation and a team award for creativity and innovation.