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Groce named to NIU 'communiversity' post

DeKALB – Jennifer Groce is going to lead efforts to connect DeKalb and Northern Illinois University through a new NIU position, officials announced Monday.

Groce, most recently an NIU Center for Governmental Studies research associate, has been chosen for a newly created full-time position of director of communiversity initiatives. The position, as well as the corresponding Communiversity Development Strategy, are the result of NIU President Doug Baker's push to create a new system to manage joint projects between the university and city.

"When [Baker] chose to locate this initiative, Jennifer became the obvious person to do it," said Anne Kaplan, vice president for outreach engagement and regional development. Kaplan was involved in creating the position.

Groce said among the most crucial parts of the job will be creating and implementing plans to strengthen ties between NIU and the city. Groce will be both a liaison and kick-starter for some of the collaborative ideas that have been discussed in the past 18 months.

“This is an exciting opportunity to take those ideas and have a central point of entry,” Groce said.

Groce will report to a joint city and university community development committee. NIU will pay her $75,000 annual salary, which is about a 21 percent raise from the $62,000 she earned as a research associate.

Groce has worked as a research associate at NIU's Center for Governmental Studies since 2011. Before joining NIU, she served as the executive director of Re:New DeKalb for eight years. She also was the runner-up last year in the four-way race for DeKalb mayor, trailing behind Mayor John Rey by 202 votes. Groce had 1,298 votes; Rey had 1,500.

In her new position, Groce will manage possible connections between the university and DeKalb's City Center Plan; the creation of a partnership that will guide enhancements to the neighborhoods to the northwest of campus; and continued support of programs such as Camp Power at University Village.

She said the areas she will initially focus on will include Hillcrest Road, University Village and other areas between Annie Glidden Road and Normal Road.

“We want to get to know each other and what their needs are,” Groce said. “We want to build a community conversation.”

Rey worked with Groce when he served as a secretary for Re:New DeKalb, which spearheaded downtown streetscape improvements. He called her a good administrator capable of overseeing multiple projects.

Rey said he strongly encourages city staff to work with Groce to strengthen the city's partnership with NIU.

"She has experience in the community as well as with the university," Rey said. "I anticipate she'll be able to bring resources and engagement with constituents to benefit both NIU and the city."

Groce will be a great fit for the job, but she will have to contact both city and university officials to make things work, said DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Matt Duffy.

"It's not going to be simple, but it will be a new challenge," Duffy said. "It's exciting, especially when both sides are communicative as they have been."

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