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Campus experience re-imagined: Proposals at Big Bold Event address some of NIU’s concerns

Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014 11:52 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 24, 2014 11:58 p.m. CDT
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(Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Graduate student Tamara Boston (left) and sophomore Christina Palmer stand among the Bold Futures idea posters Thursday while watching a presentation during the Big Bold Event at the Holmes Student Center at Northern Illinois University.
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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
President Doug Baker takes a cellphone photo of the standing-room-only crowd Thursday during the Big Bold Event at the Holmes Student Center at Northern Illinois University.
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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
President Doug Baker follows the "Jazz Alley" tour around the Holmes Student Center on Thursday during the Big Bold Event at Northern Illinois University.

DeKALB – To address its retention rate, Chad Glover thinks first-year students at Northern Illinois University should receive a discount for involvement in community service projects.

Glover, an officer at NIU’s Human Resource Services, detailed this “Make a Difference, Get a Discount” idea Thursday evening during the Big Bold Event, a day that included presentations of proposed ideas NIU could use to improve the student experience, attract more students and improve student retention.

“Building roots in the community makes students feel vested in the community,” Glover told a group of spectators in the Duke Ellington Ballroom at the Holmes Student Center.

Four people gave presentations Thursday during the event, which also included musical performances by the New Orleans brass band. The ideas were formulated from a couple of six-day “Bold Futures” workshops NIU held that invited students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to come up with proposed solutions to address key areas.

One of the main areas NIU officials want to address is the university’s retention rate. Officials have said that only about two-thirds of students who were freshmen in 2012-13 returned as sophomores during the 2013-14 academic year.

Glover said his group did not talk to any community members, besides the one in their group, when formulating their ideas. He also did not know what specific discount students could receive for volunteering.

“Imagination is the limit,” Glover said. “[Volunteering] is already a strength, but this is just a way to build upon it.”

Many ideas were proposed Thursday. A presentation that focused on celebrating all four seasons at NIU suggested the university could deck the campus out with lights during the holidays, have a square-foot of garden beds for each square-foot of pavement, and even form a partnership with Corn Fest, DeKalb’s summer festival.

Another presentation that focused on getting NIU out of its status as a suitcase campus – where students go home every weekend – had the idea to create late-night venues students younger than 21 could visit on weekends. The venue could include bowling, movies, bands and open mic performances.

All of the proposed ideas can be viewed at niu.edu/president/bold_futures/.

NIU President Doug Baker said many of the ideas can become a reality. Declining state funding, which leads to an increased reliance on student tuition and fees for revenue, makes it even more important to make changes.

“We lose if we do everything the same,” Baker said, “but we’re not going to do everything the same. We can do it better.”

Jennifer Komis, whose husband has been an NIU student since Fall 2012, gave a presentation that focused on better serving nontraditional students. Komis has two toddler-aged children.

Komis, who plans to attend NIU in May, said the campus child care center needs to extend its hours to accommodate students with evening classes. NIU should also provide lower-cost housing options and offer nontraditional students their own student orientation, she said.

“I intend to design a nontraditional student orientation,” Komis said.

Shevawn Eaton, an NIU employee who works at ACCESS, the university’s tutoring center, gave a presentation that focused on providing volunteers that would help lost students find where they need to go to prevent what is called the “Huskie Shuffle.”

Eaton said each of the students her group interviewed had a “horror story” of being lost on campus. More staff members need to be trained to assist students, she said, or else students will be frustrated and tell others about their negative experience.

“At some point, somebody says, ‘Why are we paying all this money for you to go there?’ “ Eaton said. “The whole campus needs to be trained.”

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