NIU tries to attract students to DeKalb


NIU sophomore undecided major Joe Pennington walks through downtown DeKalb on Wednesday afternoon.

By Matt Carlson

With Mayor John Rey and NIU President Doug Baker working together, the university and city might start to function as one community.

The two are looking to address student engagement, volunteer work and economic development in the area. Their main focus is the space between First and John streets. As the city and campus collaborate more, the Student Association has become involved in these plans.

“We’re going to work on figuring out how to get more students over there,” said Rebecca Clark, SA director of governmental and academic affairs. “That used to be the scene of college. Now no one even knows it exists.”

The plan is to attract more students downtown and find a balance between residents and students.

“We see some really good opportunities for evolving into a community where both DeKalb and NIU students are able to operate cohesively,” said Mike Theodore, SA chief of staff. “So it’s not like students going to DeKalb is like visiting it, it should be students are living in DeKalb. You go to other college towns, you’re there. Here, there’s a divide.”

Rey believes there was a lack of effort in the past that prevented NIU and DeKalb from engaging strongly.

“I think it’s more unawareness that has prevented that in the past,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s been the initiative from the city officials to reach out to the student body of Northern.”

Theodore said NIU can only change and grow so much, as it needs DeKalb to be on board with plans. He believes that is starting to happen.

“NIU is changing. It’s changing rapidly, and so much of that change can only be accelerated by DeKalb changing as well,” Theodore said.

A short-term goal for the SA is to be engaged more with the area’s non-profit organizations.

“Large businesses or non-profits in the area, we can start working with each other to get partnerships, internships, volunteers and maybe even jobs for our students,” Theodore said. “We talk to some of the non-profit leaders and they have a great amount of projects.”

Theodore looks at this as a win-win situation.

“Instead of paying for personnel for some things, you are able to find students who want experience in those areas,” he said.

Theodore was surprised by the relationship between the mayor and university president.

“We never saw a strong relationship between administration and the leadership in DeKalb,” Theodore said. “Now you have Mayor Rey and President Baker friends, and actively talking about economic development ideas between the two.”