University Economic Development Association


NIU Engineering @ RVC

Award Category: Talent + Place
Project Site: NIU Engineering @ RVC
Submitted By: Northern Illinois University
Contact: Rena Cotsones, Ph.D. , 815.753.0835


Rockford, Illinois is a global center of excellence in advanced manufacturing, particularly in aerospace.  This critical sector of the economy is threatened by a looming shortage of engineering talent. In collaboration with industry partners and the local community college, Northern Illinois University (NIU) created a community-based, industry-integrated workforce developent solution to address the demand for engineers.  Rockford area students can now earn bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and applied manufacturing technology without traveling to NIU’s main campus in DeKalb. Third and fourth year NIU courses are taught by NIU professors on the Rock Valley [Community] College (RVC) campus.  Students have paid internships with area companies and are mentored by local NIU and RVC alumni.

In recognition of the importance of this initiative, local industry partners launched the “Engineering our Future” fundraising campaign and raised $6 million in 9 months to support the program.  The president of the lead donor company, Woodward, continues to host weekly Monday morning meetings with the higher education, industry and community leadership team to ensure the successful operation and growth of the program.

The goal of the program is to facilitate a seamless transition from high school to RVC to NIU to career, developing and retaining local talent.  Since its launch in Fall 2016, more than 30 students are in the third and fourth year NIU courses at RVC and the pipeline of students in pre-engineering courses at RVC has tripled, ensuring a healthy pipeline of students for growth of the program.

Finalist Presentation

UEDA Awards of Excellence Finalists presented at the Annual Summit in Long Beach on October 2-3, 2017. Summit attendees then voted for the best initiative in each category.