DEKALB – U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger said lawmakers make decisions about the country’s $3 trillion budget every day that affect people in his district – and some of those decisions need to include support for national laboratories and efforts to get more people to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.
He also had strong words for state lawmakers who, he said, “need to get their act together” and make sure Illinois’ budget does its part to provide the same kind of support.
The Channahon Republican visited new science labs at Northern Illinois University on Tuesday and heard students and faculty talk about how the university’s collaborations with national labs make students more competitive in their field.
“What I saw today was where the federal government is spending money to both help kids get a good education, which is essential, but also actually really develop good technology that I think is going to really be beneficial to people, to budgets and things in the future,” Kinzinger said.
Kinzinger’s visit to NIU was one of several stops on a 3-day tour in his district. Other stops: the DeKalb Airport, where he talked about attracting more traffic to the airport, and Rockford, where he learned about a federal partnership with communities during an opioid awareness community forum.
On Wednesday morning, he’ll be in Dixon, where he’ll attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Lee County Jail.
Gerald Blazey, vice president of research and innovation partnerships at NIU, said NIU’s new lab will allow students and faculty to familiarize themselves with research instrumentation used by national labs, like Chicago-area Argonne. He said access to the lab also will help with atomic and molecular research, particularly for chemists, physicists and biologists.
Blazey said that even though he doesn’t feel that national labs will lose their funding anytime soon, university officials made it clear to Kinzinger that the labs remain important to local and federal education and research.
“I think he probably saw the depth of the importance, both in terms of disciplines and the number of people involved,” Blazey said.
Kinzinger said national labs saw increased funding in the most recent budget Congress passed, adding that he would push back against any efforts in committees he serves to cut funding in the future.
He said a huge portion of NIU’s finances come from the state, which still has its own budget problems that need to be addressed in order to continue to help universities like NIU.
“I’ll leave that to some of the folks in Springfield to figure out how to get their act together, because they haven’t for a long time,” Kinzinger said.
The federal government can help schools like NIU by making financial aid and loans easier to get so people can get into those kinds of academic programs, Kinzinger said. He said the federal government also can help students who want to enroll in vocational schools by making funding there more easily available.
“I think being able to think agilely outside of kind of how we’ve been doing education is essential,” Kinzinger said. “In some cases, that means us having to step back and rethink where are the needs and how we get folks to that point.”