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NIU president, officials spread word on D.C.trip

Published: Friday, July 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University had a chance to shine at the nation’s capital this week. 

NIU President Douglas Baker, along with a team of staff and students, went to Washington, D.C. on Monday for a two-day trip to demonstrate their accomplishments to members of Congress. While there, they also discussed issues affecting higher education, such as rising student loan interest rates. 

For Baker, the trip was an opportunity to learn what legislators’ priorities were for Illinois and see how the university could help address them. 

“I wanted to get the university officials to know those issues in greater depth,” he said. 

Building the economy through job creation and resolving student loan issues were two priorities he saw for Congress. Recently, federal student loan interest rates have doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The U.S. Senate approved a bill to lower the interest rate Wednesday. A vote on the bill is expected soon by the House. 

During the research roundtable, NIU faculty delivered several presentations on improving medical technology, educational engagement and business innovation. 

Lee Shumow, professor of leadership, educational psychology and foundations, presented her research on improving middle- and high-school learning in science education, along with fellow professor Jennifer Schmidt. 

“It is a very, very big issue on the Hill in Washington, D.C. among policymakers,” she said, “because proficiency in science is very critical for careers.” 

Shumow said several legislators said constituents had complained they could not find enough engineers to hire for their companies.

Through their research, Shumow and Schmidt discovered motivation and engagement in the classroom depended on activities and interaction with the teachers. In response, they developed an experiment to improve motivation among students. They plan to publish their research and help teachers improve learning motivation in science. 

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing NIU students and interns in action, Baker said. He said he was excited to see the some of the students tell lawmakers about their research. The internship program at NIU is something he plans to focus on as university president. 

“It will immerse them in the reality of the world of work and enrich their experience,” Baker said. 

He said members of Congress understand the value of engaging students in real-world activities. The university had illustrated the importance that engagement through the student research projects and internships, he said.

“The legislators see that everyday,” Baker said. “They just see those students blossom in front of them and become staffers or legislators.” 

While the opportunity to meet with members of Congress was exciting for everyone involved, for Shumow it emphasized the importance of knowing about what policymakers do for the nation. 

“This renewed my belief that it is an important thing to do,” she said. 

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