Northeastern University

Katie Theriault - Class of 2012

Human Services with a specialization in Policy and Administration

Why did you choose this major, and does/did it seem like the right major for you? Why?

I transferred to Northeastern from Temple University in the fall of 2009. At my former school, I studied Public Relations. During my sophomore year there, I started participating in an AmeriCorps program working with preschool children called Jumpstart. The experience made me rethink my entire academic direction. As a result, I decided to take a year off (but I viewed it as more of a year ‘on’) to participate in a second, more intensive one-year AmeriCorps program called City Year. I worked full-time in an elementary school and on an abundance of service and program initiatives at City Year. As a result, I also developed my budding interests in issues of educational equality, social justice, service and civic engagement.

I learned during my gap year that I wanted to change my academic course. I realized I didn’t want to become a teacher, and I didn’t want to go back into Public Relations. I wanted to learn about different ways to effect social in an interdisciplinary way and with real-world application. My former school didn’t offer any such program, but Northeastern did, with the Human Services program. Choosing to take a year off in the middle of college to do a year of service and then transferring schools and changing academic direction is not your typical path through college. But it was absolutely the best path for me. By paying attention to my interests and inklings; I’ve ended up in a program that suits me perfectly.

The Human Services program has helped me develop my interests in political advocacy, public policy and the intersection of government and the nonprofit sector. I’ve also found through my courses other offshoots of interest as well. Human Services is also great because it is a small, flexible program in a big university. Most HS classes are small, you get to know other HS majors easily, most HS majors share similar interests’ and values, professors are very accessible and supportive and you get multiple opportunities to explore and practice what you are interested in through service-learning, internship, co-op, the dialogues of civilizations and other opportunities.

I have taken all my HS courses with the aim of scaffolding off of my past experiences and building a holistic understanding of social change. In the process, I’ve produced assignments I’m incredibly proud off, all with practical uses, such as: public policy memorandums related to public health, education reform, and national service; resource and training materials for a local nonprofit in Boston, a proposal to improve evaluation methods of a service program on campus and a grant application and project proposal for launching a mentoring initiative in rural India.

Why did you choose NU? Was/is this the right school for you?

I actually applied to Northeastern as a senior in high school. It was my top choice school – head and shoulders above any other I applied for – but I didn’t get in. I ended up going to my safety school with no intention of trying to transfer. Even during my gap year in City Year, I still planned to go back to Temple after the program ended. I applied to transfer to Northeastern, and a host of other schools, once I realized that Temple didn’t have any program I could switch into that served my growing interests. I didn’t think I would get in, and I was shocked when I was not only accepted but received a scholarship too. Looking back, I think I was just supposed to happen– it took a little more time and growth to get to Northeastern, but it has absolutely met and exceeded my expectations.

How many co-ops have you completed?

I am completing my first and only co-op in December. But, I’m okay with that, given the other opportunities I’ve had at Northeastern and beyond professional development and career exploration.

If you participated in co-op, can you list give a quick synopsis of what you did?

My co-op is at Root Cause, an organization that consults to nonprofit organizations, conducts social impact research and provides resources to innovative organizations in Boston. At my co-op, I am the Communications and Knowledge Fellow. I work with the Director of Knowledge to ensure that, as an organization, Root Cause is learning from the work it is doing across these three strains. To do this, we create publications such as case studies, white papers and reports that share our knowledge with the field and test new ideas.

In this role, I have primarily worked on the development of Root Causes’ latest report: Doing More with Less, Case Studies on the Impact of National Service. Ironically, national service (ie: AmeriCorps) is my passion – it was a long time before starting my co-op, and Root Cause just happened to get this project when I started in July. So it provided an extraordinary opportunity to put my expertise and experience to use in order to add to the evidence-base in the field.

Additionally, I have been working on a special project for our CEO developing a publication highlighting legislation across the country that advances social innovation. I am also assisting with the development of Root Cause’s next publication, a White Paper on Social Innovation.

If you participated in co-op, what were the highlights/great learning opportunities you gained?

Working on the Case Studies on the Impact of National Service, our team at Root Cause worked closely with an advisory committee of members from the White House Office of Social Innovation, the Corporation for National and Community Service, City Year, New Profit, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and the Council on Foundations – all organizations I would love to work for in 7 months when I graduate. So, I already was able to make connections to people there.

I also got to staff our CEO in attending a convening event in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill when the report was released. At one point at the event, I looked around and realized I was in a room with a lot of influential people in the national service field – basically representing a short list of anyone I’d want to work one day. The highlight? All of them had the report, with my name on it, in their hands.

Did you have any other "learning from outside of the classroom" (service learning, student leadership, study abroad, research, or volunteering) that also enriched your time here?

Before starting at Northeastern, I had competed a 10-month term of service with City Year, a term of service with Jumpstart and worked on curriculum for a teen leadership program with Crossroads for Kids.

Since starting at Northeastern, I have:

  • Completed 3 service-learning placements at Hyde Square Task Force, Yawkey Boys and Girls Club of Roxbury and Jumpstart.
  • Volunteered with the City Year City Heroes teen leadership and service program on the weekends (although it has since gone on hiatus) and I also volunteer on the City Year Boston alumni advisory board.
  • Was an intern for 6 months at the advocacy/coalition building organization for service called Be the Change, Inc, where they have now set up two co-op positions (a totally awesome organization to work for!). I will also be returning this spring to manage a special project for the organization.
  • Participated in two Dialogues of Civilizations programs to India and Morocco
  • Served as a Team Leader for the Alternative Spring Break program for trips to New Orleans and the Dominican Republic. I also served as a Service-Learning Teaching Assistant for Emily Mann’s Child Intervention and Treatment, a course in the Human Services Program and was a Team Leader for Jumpstart – all through the Center of Community Service at Northeastern.
  • Voted to the Board of Directors at Massachusetts Service Alliance, the governor-appointed state commission on service and volunteerism.
  • This spring, I will be starting an internship working in the Office of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

    Have you Graduated from NU?

    I will be graduating this spring in 2012. My previous service experiences and the opportunities at Northeastern have set up me extremely well to enter the field I hope to go into.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Northeastern is totally what you make it. There are endless opportunities to learn about what you like and try out different things. I think the amount of options to gain experience is particularly unique to Northeastern. However, I’ve found that most Northeastern students I know are like me – they want to do it all! And it’s very easy to overextend yourself if you try to do too much. It’s great to take opportunities to learn and gain experience, but it’s really important to find a balance too. As Emily (Mann) has said to me before, there are ways to go abroad, conduct research, or learn about [insert your interests here] after you graduate too. Especially if you are planning on going to graduate school.

    Also –networking is so important. Everyone you meet has something to offer and you do too. You can use your connections and personal network to help others get something they want and vice versa (an internship or job, a discount in a store or restaurant, a babysitting gig, a decent apartment etc!). Networking is something that I think a lot of students are wary of because it seems inauthentic, but I think it’s just a way to help each other out and a reminder of how small the Northeastern community (the city, the world..) actually is. Also, being a college student actually works in your favor - people want to help you! I’ve had a lot of great things happen to me because I was able to tap into the networks of people around me and I’m happy to say I’ve found ways to pay it forward too.

    And finally – use the staff and professors at Northeastern as resources! They are awesome! I can’t count the times I’ve popped into Lisa or Emily (Mann)’s office to talk about my professional development, academic interests or challenges, etc. They are all incredibly knowledgeable and there to help. Career services are great too - when I was interviewing for the Governor’s Office, I popped in to have them look at my résumé and also to do a mock interview to make sure I was prepared. We pay for the service with tuition – might as well use it!

  • Questions Answered as of 12-1-11