University Economic Development Association
Rena Cotsones, Ph.D.

Rena Cotsones, Ph.D.

Associate VP, Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development
Northern Illinois University


Bringing people together for a common good has been a lifelong passion for Dr. Rena Cotsones.

As Associate Vice President of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development for Northern Illinois University, Rena works with regional partners to create and implement collaborative approaches to advancing education, economic development, workforce development, and innovation initiatives in northern Illinois and Chicagoland.

Most recently, Rena provided leadership for the creation of a community-based, industry-integrated engineering baccalaureate completion program in partnership with the community college and industry partners in Rockford, Illinois. This collaborative workforce solution has inspired the development of other innovative approaches to education and workforce development in the region and won the 2017 Award of Excellence for Talent Development from the University Economic Development Association (UEDA),

Rena chaired the national Council on Engagement and Outreach (CEO) of the Association of Public and Landgrant Universities (APLU) in 2017. She helped lead the team that won APLU’s Innovation and Economic Prosperity designation for NIU in 2013. She is a member of the national core team for Strategic Doing. a program of Purdue University’s Agile Strategy Lab and is a certified Strategic Doing faculty member. In northern Illinois, she serves on the boards of numerous Chambers, economic development and education organizations.

Rena started her career as a broadcast journalist after graduating from Illinois State University with a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration and Ph.D. in Political Science from Northern Illinois University. Her dissertation focused on elements of successful town-gown collaboration in diverse university communities.