Shaping the PNW Vision
Keon sees PNW as a ‘driving force’ for advancing Northwest Indiana.
January 28, 2020
When Chancellor Thomas Keon pitched his idea to alumnus David Roberts about developing a commercialization center in Hammond, the head of Carlisle Companies Inc. suggested his alma mater also consider furthering manufacturing.
With an eye toward a training facility that supports advanced manufacturing workforce development, Roberts invested in what today is the Purdue University Northwest Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center.
The College of Technology oversees the nearly two-year-old center. Soon after it opened, it became the training site for a $2.7 million federal grant the College used to prepare and place 70+ unemployed or underemployed individuals in well-paying manufacturing jobs.
A huge believer in partnerships fueled by academic strength, Keon is shaping a formidable vision as leader of the new Purdue University Northwest. “I want people to see us as a driving force for what’s happening in Northwest Indiana,” he said. And many of the sight lines are impressively clear.
Building on success
PNW offers a nationally-recognized nursing program and America’s first mechatronics engineering technology baccalaureate offering, which prepares students for jobs in the multi-million dollar packaging industry. Such other programs as marriage and family therapy – complete with its 100 percent graduate placement rate – engineering, early childhood education and accounting, among others, also are attracting students and impressing employers regionally, nationally and worldwide.
And PNW’s Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation research facility has saved industries more than $40 million and is driving a national consortium intent on championing ways to make steel production more efficient, competitive and sustainable. “There are strong, reputable parts to our institution that offer national and international visibility and can be emulated to enhance our university,” Keon said. The strategic road map for PNW emphasizes student success, academic excellence, learning through engagement and discovery, inclusivity and diversity, building partnerships and providing a premier university infrastructure.
“Many of these students come to us from disadvantaged backgrounds, We need to ensure they have a strong probability for success.”
‘A cut above’
“We want to develop an academic experience at PNW that makes our students a cut above,” Keon said. “We want to create strong partnerships with businesses, companies and governmental units that will hire our students and advise us how to be cutting edge in the programs we offer.” A partnership initiated a decade ago between packaging employers and the former Purdue Calumet’s College of Technology has done just that.
Prompted by a need for qualified packaging technologists, the employers collaborated with the College in development of the mechatronics engineering technology program.
Combining mechanical, electrical controls and automation technologies, the program debuted in 2008 and claims 29 graduates. Support and expertise from the packaging partners have produced campus-based instructional laboratories and valuable program input.
“I believe in 20 years, there are likely to be four or five significant new employers in the packaging industry in Northwest Indiana due to partnerships our College of Technology has established,” Keon said.
Student – Centeredness
Keon also is a student-centered university proponent. “We are interested in recruiting well-prepared students who have lots of options,” Keon said. “That is why it is so important to provide high quality degree programs.”
Also important is retaining those students through a satisfying university experience. That is especially important now given the demographic shift to more full time, traditional aged students attending the Hammond and Westville campuses.
Among first time freshman enrollees last fall, 93 percent carried full course loads and 95 percent were age 20 or younger.
An “all in” faculty and staff reputation for student centeredness has been a quality previous Hammond and Westville students have lauded. But a favorable PNW experience demands more, Keon says.
He offers that retention is about keeping students engaged, excited and motivated to succeed. That requires a university investment in outstanding facilities and engaging student activities and services.
To his point, Keon is pleased with PNW’s improved campus Career Centers, robust intramural athletic and fitness programs, and increasing support services.
One such service that is key to Keon’s studentcenteredness vision is PNW’s response to the 70 percent of on-campus students who seek to become their families’ first university graduates.
One way success is being pursued is “through an integrated program we have put in place that focuses on using real data to identify potential academic pitfalls for specific students and then helps them choose the best career paths and academicn options,” the chancellor said.
For alumni of Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central, Keon contends there is much to be excited about the unified Purdue Northwest. “There are universities staying on course, and there are others on the move; we are definitely on the move,” he said. “It is my hope that PNW will become a leader for Northwest Indiana in quality of place and economic development.”