Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Ray Alden
Ray Alden

Earl “Gip” Seaver
Earl “Gip” Seaver

Anne C. Kaplan
Anne C. Kaplan

Lemuel W. Watson
Lemuel W. Watson

Marilyn Bellert
Marilyn Bellert

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

August 11, 2009

NIU to open Center for P-20 Engagement,
Lemuel W. Watson named executive director

DeKalb, Ill. — With proof of “real and sustainable” interest across the university and among the public in improving teaching and learning from preschool through graduate school, Northern Illinois University has launched the Center for P-20 Engagement.

Lemuel W. Watson, dean of the College of Education, serves as executive director.

He envisions a serious dialogue across colleges and a collaborative pursuit of grants that will shine a light on societal issues and economic development and combines university and community expertise for the greater good.

“I’m excited about this opportunity. My intent is to become a key spokesperson for the university as we engage with communities and businesses to share knowledge about teaching and learning, create classical experiences for students and faculty and bring folks together around these critical issues,” said Watson, who adds this responsibility to his current duties as dean.

“I believe NIU is in a wonderful position to maintain its lead in the state and the region on P-20 initiatives and on building partnerships with community colleges, businesses and other community agencies,” he added. “The goal of the Center for P-20 Engagement is to be a place where we can connect people, facilitate dialogue and enhance everyone’s work.”

The center is indeed “a portal to NIU’s P-20 knowledge, expertise, and resources for educational organizations, business and industry, and community agencies,” Provost Raymond Alden wrote in an Aug. 5 letter to campus leaders.

“NIU has built a foundation of activities and relationships that will flourish in the context of reciprocity and mutual benefit that characterizes engagement,” Alden wrote. “The center will offer support for building engagement through thoughtful collaboration and partnerships and will strive to connect public needs to NIU’s hundreds of field-oriented P-20 projects and services.”

An outgrowth of six years of work on P-20 projects under the umbrella of the P-20 Task Force, ideas for a permanent center gained widespread support during the recent strategic planning process, NIU’s center will pursue three objectives:

  • Coordination. Facilitate a P-20 network of volunteer affiliates and their collaborative activities.
  • Promotion of Leadership. Strengthen NIU’s regional, national and global presence and impact as a leader among higher education institutions that invest in mutually beneficial P-20 partnerships.
  • Management of a P-20 Engagement Portfolio. Extend NIU’s teaching and learning environment through P-20 initiatives with education organizations, governments, non-profits, and corporations.

Participants in the P-20 network will gain connections to internal and external activities and partners along with facilitation of meetings, strategic planning and project management. They will also be able to count access to public relations, identity development and Web site support for their projects.

In his role as executive director, Watson reports to Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver and Anne C. Kaplan, vice president for Outreach and University Administration. Seaver and Kaplan are co-chairs of the P-20 Task Force.

“The various activities we’ve undertaken in P-20 certainly have grown tremendously. Our institution is looked at as a leader,” Seaver said. “This new center is a great way to coordinate our efforts and to continue to move forward in engaging with individuals and programs external to NIU.”

Kaplan said the center will provide greater visibility to existing P-20 projects and stimulate and encourage future ventures. Marilyn Bellert, executive assistant to Kaplan and the key staff person for the P-20 Task Force, will continue to play that role as the center’s associate director.

“The experience that we’ve had over the past six years showed us there is more than enough interest to justify a permanent structure. We put up the flag that is P-20, and all kinds of people rushed onto the field,” Kaplan said.

Now those people, all of whom possess bright and possibly complimentary ideas, will find avenues for collaboration as well as the support system that produce a fruitful harvest.

“That snowball effect just doesn’t happen if everyone is off doing their own things,” Kaplan said, “no matter how good those things are.”

Watson and Bellert will welcome faculty and staff to a campus-wide meeting next month where they will explain how the center will operate and invite their participation.

A recent delegate to the Engagement Academy for University Leaders in Roanoke, Va., Watson also will spell out the importance of “reciprocity” between town and gown.

“Part of the criticism from the public is, ‘What’s important about higher education if it’s not enhancing communities, imparting knowledge and learning from that reciprocal process with the field?’ We need to be the ones who are leading in many ways,” he said, “preparing students to go back to their communities to enhance them and asking faculty to share what they’re learning in the field and from the field.”

His four dean colleagues who sit with him on the P-20 Task Force already are excited.

“NIU not only established the concept of P-20 in the state but has been a leader in bringing five colleges at NIU together to address learning and teaching needs of the community,” said Promod Vohra, dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. “P-20 brings the synergies of researchers at NIU and empowers them through collaboration and partnership.”

“The opening of the NIU P-20 Center couldn’t have come at a better time,” added Rich Holly, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. “The education faculty and students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts become engaged in more and broader education-related activities each year, and the center will enable us to integrate and collaborate with many more constituencies, both on- and off-campus.”

The other deans involved are Christopher McCord (Liberal Arts and Sciences) and Shirley Richmond (Health and Human Sciences).

For more information about the center, contact Bellert at (815) 753-8051 or

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