Experiential learning, seven cities at a time

May 30, 2012

In March, Fran­cisco Torres, MS’12, con­ducted research at the Carmel Aca­d­emic Center in Haifa, Israel, to find out whether the uni­ver­sity is suc­ceeding in helping the city attract — and retain — top young talent.

He gath­ered data by inter­viewing the campus project man­ager, a city sta­tis­ti­cian and the director of a young adult center that helps stu­dents find jobs.

“The issue is that there is a large pop­u­la­tion of young adults leaving Haifa and going to other cities in Israel in much the same way that many col­lege stu­dents leave Boston after grad­u­a­tion,” Torres explained.

The experiential- learning oppor­tu­nity was part of a two- semester graduate- level cap­stone course in urban and regional policy. Each stu­dent in the class was tasked with deter­mining whether spe­cific ini­tia­tives in par­tic­ular cities throughout the world were suc­ceeding in pro­moting talent reten­tion and job cre­ation by reviewing poli­cies, ana­lyzing lit­er­a­ture and con­ducting inter­views with stake­holders in each location.

At the end of the semester, each stu­dent wrote — and pre­sented — a case study on his or her respec­tive city.

Each of the selected cities — Barcelona, Spain; Dublin, Ire­land; Guadala­jara, Mexico; Haifa; Hangzhou, China; Lisbon, Por­tugal; and Van­couver, Canada — is part of the World Class Cities Part­ner­ship, an ini­tia­tive of Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. The goal of the pro­gram is to estab­lish pro­duc­tive part­ner­ships between uni­ver­si­ties and gov­ern­ment agen­cies in met­ro­pol­itan areas world­wide to iden­tify and address mutu­ally impor­tant urban issues.

Michael Lake, exec­u­tive director of the WCCP, designed the cap­stone course. An inter­dis­ci­pli­nary cast of fac­ulty mem­bers —com­prising Michael Dukakis, dis­tin­guished pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence, Daniel Spiess, a lec­turer in the policy school and the partnership’s research director, and Ray­mond Kin­nunen, asso­ciate pro­fessor of inter­na­tional busi­ness and strategy — co- taught the class.

Torres, a finalist for a two- year paid fel­low­ship with the Mass­a­chu­setts Budget and Policy Center, com­mended the course for its focus on applying con­cepts learned in class to the real world.

“It’s one thing to read about some­thing in a text­book, but when you’re actu­ally learning about it on the ground, it changes your per­spec­tive,” said Torres, who has trav­eled throughout the world as a clas­si­cally trained ballet dancer. “The most amazing part of the cap­stone was get­ting to speak to all the people I had heard so much about.”

Lake praised the course for aligning with Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to research, urban engage­ment and expe­ri­en­tial learning. “It takes expe­ri­en­tial learning to the Nth   degree,” he explained. “It com­bines every­thing that North­eastern stands for.”

Kin­nunen, who guided the stu­dents through writing their case studies, agreed with Lake’s assess­ment and dis­cussed a plan to share the case studies with del­e­gates from the program’s partner cities at a summit later this year. “I don’t know of any other school in the country that does this,” he said. “The stu­dents have made a tremen­dous con­tri­bu­tion to the lit­er­a­ture on each of these cities and on urban and regional policy.”