The Academic Initiative
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The Academic Plan

The Northeastern University community stands on the threshold of change in the twenty-first century, eager to embrace the challenges and opportunities that will define our future and shape our destiny. We have approached the development of this academic plan with great optimism and momentum, yet mindful of the increasing competitive pressures that will continue to surface in the years ahead. Our success in attaining the outcomes we seek for Northeastern University will be based on our commitment to the guiding principles of Excellence, Distinctiveness, and Innovation.

Higher education at the beginning of this century faces many challenges. The world for which we are preparing our students requires that we understand and incorporate the technological advances that drive innovation in both education and research. The competitive impetus of globalization is felt everywhere, from the admission of our students, to the curricula they desire, to the research collaborations in which our scholars take part. To ensure that talented students continue to choose Northeastern, we must offer individuals and families the value they seek in student learning and experience.

As educators, our commitment is to prepare our students for a fulfilled life: intellectually, personally, and professionally. These students will know a twenty-first century world where the frontiers of knowledge are characterized by fierce global competition and ever increasing technological advances. This is a world in which students may pursue many different careers during the course of their lifetimes–perhaps in fields that don’t exist today. We must, therefore, seek to instill in every student a lifelong passion for learning, an ability to adapt and thrive amid constant change, an entrepreneurial spirit, an appreciation for the contributions of diverse sectors of society, an ability to overcome social distance, and a sense of responsibility for civic engagement.

As scholars, we are an increasingly important part of a global enterprise that fosters the creation and dissemination of new knowledge and the development of technologies. This enterprise also promotes innovative solutions and creative expression. We must forge new partnerships that will promote interdisciplinary scholarship and translational research, thereby opening new opportunities that will address complex problems that exist at the interfaces of disciplines.

As local and global citizens, we have a responsibility to address societal problems. We do so most effectively through reciprocal partnerships with the neighborhoods that surround us and with our global colleagues. It will take such collective effort to make meaningful contributions to sustaining our environment, fostering greater understanding, and celebrating our human diversity.

Northeastern cannot thrive by copying others. Our distinctive character must be nurtured and promoted. We must shape our own destiny. Accomplishing this requires that we be innovative and create new and different pathways. We look to this plan to serve as a guide in setting priorities, informing decisions, and focusing resources to allow us to achieve our ambitions.

Strategies and Initiatives

1. Enhance Student Outcomes through Experiential Learning

2. Address Global and Societal Challenges through Interdisciplinary and Translational Research

3. Enrich Intellectual Life and Creative Expression

4. Strengthen Urban Engagement

5. Embrace Global Opportunities

Keys to Success


1. Enhance Student Outcomes through Experiential Learning

 Northeastern University adopted experiential learning nearly a century ago, with the emergence of Cooperative Education. The long-standing success of this program is rooted in a broader educational philosophy that integrates study and practice. Northeastern students and alumni point to the value of the experiential model in shaping their search for fulfilling careers and the clear success of this model in placing graduates. Our corporate partners speak highly of the value of this model for industry. Because of this long and successful experience, Northeastern is widely recognized for its expertise and leadership in Cooperative Education and experiential learning.

 We will use this expertise to extend our experiential learning model to a host of new areas, including study abroad, undergraduate research, and graduate training. In doing so, we recognize the need to carry out groundbreaking educational research in experiential learning that will enable us to create programs that are even more effective in giving our students the social, intellectual, and cognitive skills they will need to excel in the twenty-first century. Such research will enable our University to achieve still higher quality learning, and further establish our leadership in this arena by providing the entire higher-education community with a clearer understanding of the increasingly embraced experiential model.

 The following initiatives will enable Northeastern University to enhance learning outcomes using the experiential model.

A. Transformative Student Experience

Northeastern University will provide authentic and substantial transformative experiences that are fully integrated with in-class learning. Best practices, such as team learning, self-organizing student interest groups, and integrative capstone courses will be emphasized. With our corporate partnerships for cooperative education serving as the foundation, the University will extend experiential learning through faculty partnerships for undergraduate research, alumni partnerships for student mentoring, community partnerships for service learning, and global partnerships for study abroad and international cooperative education. The experiential model will also be extended to additional graduate programs.

B. Groundbreaking Experiential Learning Research

Rigorous academic research on experiential learning will be necessary to investigate cognitive and developmental impacts of this educational design. We will pioneer in developing a better understanding of how this model fosters student learning in higher education. The pursuit of a robust research agenda to acquire knowledge about experiential learning will establish Northeastern University as the leader in investigating the ways education is enhanced by integration with experience.


2. Address Global and Societal Challenges through Interdisciplinary and Translational Research

The creation of new knowledge and new technologies continues to accelerate rapidly. Whether such advances are motivated by a desire to solve societal problems, remain competitive on a global level, provide economic prosperity for citizens, or extend human understanding, universities will increasingly play a critical role in shaping this research and scholarly agenda. With expanding opportunities, however, come increasing challenges. The commitment required to engage in research in this competitive landscape calls for more active research and scholarship by faculty, stronger infrastructure, more research that is at the cutting edge of new disciplines, and more innovative application to the expressed needs of society.

Northeastern University will leverage its entrepreneurial and collaborative culture to achieve greater prominence in both interdisciplinary scholarship and translational research. We value interdisciplinary research because groundbreaking discoveries often occur at the intersection of academic disciplines. Similarly, we value translational research because it captures the strength of both fundamental and applied research to move new knowledge, ideas, and discoveries to the point where they can have an impact on societal needs. We expect the combination of entrepreneurial spirit, interdisciplinary research, and translational partnerships to yield innovative solutions for societal challenges.

These initiatives are designed to open new opportunities for the University to build a distinctive research program.

A. Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scholarship and Translational Research

This initiative will be focused on enhancing existing and emerging centers of excellence in fundamental, interdisciplinary, and translational research. We will encourage and reward innovation and entrepreneurship. We will further strengthen our partnerships with industry and research hospitals, with institutions that promote common good and justice, and with international institutions. We will strengthen the infrastructure for scholarship and research at Northeastern, including support for technology development and innovation.

B. Innovative Education

Northeastern University will adopt an innovative model for education that builds on University-wide graduate groups that supersede the traditional boundaries between academic units. We will strengthen PhD programs through alignment with centers of excellence in research. We will foster interdisciplinary learning at all levels.


3. Enrich Intellectual Life and Creative Expression

The development of intellect and creativity is fundamental to all educational experiences—from the classroom to the conference room, from the library to the lab, and from the studio to the stage. All these settings provide contexts for learning. It is essential, however, to provide a balance of opportunities for students to explore and enrich their lives. Northeastern’s historic orientation toward professional education, offering less emphasis on the arts and humanities, has been shifting in recent years. Students in increasing numbers are coming to Northeastern University with a broad range of interests, seeking to explore liberal and professional learning in an environment that encourages both. Programs that nurture this integration are growing and a greater balance is increasingly evident. Students also seek opportunities to self-organize around their learning goals and Northeastern must increasingly emphasize team learning.

Because the arts and humanities ask fundamental questions about what it means to be human, scholarship informed by creative, aesthetic, and ethical perspectives is as often about identifying problems as it is about developing their solutions. For example, mapping and identifying urban crime, health, or development is essential to coming up with designed solutions; such practical design problems are framed, however, by deeper assumptions about what human beings need in order to flourish in communities. Similarly, the role of design in synthesizing and visualizing immense streams of data is essential to a broader societal understanding of fundamental challenges such as diminishing natural resources or global warming. The power of narrative, as well as sound and image, has been fundamental in fostering an increased sense of responsibility and awareness of such issues.

As a leading research university we must excel in the fundamental work of creating, critiquing, and disseminating works of art, literature, music, and digital media. This is central to our mission as artists, writers, scholars, teachers, and students. It is upon this foundation that we can create a unique and distinctive position for the arts and humanities at Northeastern University—a position that capitalizes on opportunities and helps to solve problems in our constantly changing cultures, societies, and economies.

The Northeastern University community will broaden and enrich intellectual life and creative expression on campus and in the surrounding area through the following initiatives.

A. The Tools of Contemporary Life

Through the core curriculum in the arts and humanities and in programs of study offered in the disciplines, Northeastern students will become confident in the use of the tools of contemporary life. Students will benefit from demonstrating skills in abstraction, visualization, and composition; developing abilities in visual, aural, and media literacy; refining synthetic and critical thinking; experimenting with creation, sampling, and reinterpretation; and making and supporting an argument. Northeastern will promote and support the exploration of cross-disciplinary studies that encourage students from diverse backgrounds to develop multiple lenses through which to create hypotheses and resolve problems.

B. Partnerships in the Visual and Performing Arts

Northeastern University will encourage the development and dissemination of creative works on campus and throughout the world. By promoting collaborations with individual artists, museums, arts organizations, and universities, Northeastern will enrich creative and intellectual opportunities campus-wide. This initiative will also connect the University to the surrounding communities, using the universal language of the arts as a catalyst for dialogue and shared experience. These partnerships will highlight the intersection of the arts with new media and modalities, and will push us to rethink traditional fields.


4. Strengthen Urban Engagement

In order for Northeastern University to thrive in the twenty-first century, our institution must be engaged locally and globally in urban settings that represent an increasing portion of the world’s population. Our commitment to partnering with the City of Boston and the neighborhoods that surround our campus will be accomplished through a clearly articulated set of institutional priorities that are carefully planned and implemented. All members of the Northeastern community must become knowledgeable and engaged citizens in our diverse, urban setting.

The challenges faced in Boston mirror many of the challenges of urban centers around the globe. The world’s population is becoming increasingly concentrated. Metropolitan regions are now home to the majority of the population. Every city must create sustainable and necessary infrastructure. Challenges exist because of disparities in income, housing, health status and services, public safety, exposure to violence, and quality of education—here and elsewhere. Through engaged research with partners in our own city, we will build critical expertise necessary to address urban issues and issues of social justice. At the same time, our work will benefit significantly from, and contribute to, the knowledge and experience of other urban centers, both nationally and internationally.

Northeastern’s expertise in the challenges facing urban communities will be informed by collaborations with our own neighborhoods and with other metropolitan areas around the world. These initiatives will serve as the catalyst for these efforts.

A. Partnerships with Neighboring Communities

To maximize its effectiveness in urban engagement and social responsibility, Northeastern will build new partnerships with our surrounding communities, linking them to us and to each other. Such a program will be designed through a collaborative effort, leveraging community-wide human, physical, and financial resources to create a synergistic network of partnerships across the area. All community partners will benefit as a shared destiny is forged through volunteerism and community service.

B. Shared Expertise in Urban Policy and Research

Northeastern’s expertise in urban affairs will be deepened by mutual learning. Our capacity to draw on the experience of other communities in global urban settings is a resource that will be shared with the region, the nation, and the world. The research findings and policy analyses, as translated into action in concert with local urban communities, are equally transferable to many other cities. This broader agenda will seek to meet societal needs through the study of urban challenges from an interdisciplinary and global perspective.


5. Embrace Global Opportunities

The world and the world of higher education are undergoing enormous change. The global university, characterized by campuses in several countries and a strong presence in cyberspace, is rapidly becoming commonplace. U.S. dominance in higher education is threatened by expanding systems in Asia and the European Union. The knowledge economy, driven by globalization, is becoming a defining feature of the world. During their careers our students will need to be equally at ease in Shanghai and Chicago. Our research partnerships will need to span the globe in order to capitalize on the knowledge now being developed elsewhere.

Building a global university will require us to change in fundamental ways. More diversity on our home campus must be combined with a network of opportunities around the world. These opportunities must serve our undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff, but they must also position Northeastern to harness the changes brought by technological transformation. Access to the world’s libraries and new mechanisms for distance learning and communication will provide opportunities to build a global network. Our efforts in the global arena will be targeted and guided by a spirit of collaboration with international partners. They will be marked by a strong commitment to foster intercultural understanding and a strong sense of responsibility to our colleagues and their environments. This responsiveness will heighten our openness to receiving knowledge and sharing in its creation.

The global presence of the University will be enhanced by these initiatives:

A. Enhance University-Wide Global Awareness

A global university must adopt a perspective that goes well beyond the physical and intellectual boundaries of its campus. Northeastern will be a university that embraces that global perspective through expanded language and cultural literacy, and through creative opportunities for faculty and students to work and learn together in international settings. Interdisciplinary scholarship and translational research will take on an increasingly international character through selected partnerships and targeted exchanges.

B. Extend the University’s Global Presence

Through the reach of technology and global communications, the University will expand and refine its capacity to deliver lifelong learning programs worldwide, drawing increasing numbers of international students and faculty to Northeastern. Collaborations with universities from around the world will increase as synergies with specific academic programs and research initiatives emerge. Northeastern’s international presence is much enhanced by our existing network of partnerships with multinational and global companies and with a large international alumni body. Such partnerships must be expanded to increasingly create opportunities for international co-ops and research collaborations.


Keys to Success

Successful implementation of this plan will rest on five key factors that are the necessary foundation for achieving our ambitions.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

The first of these is an Entrepreneurial Spirit. The innovations we seek rest on our ability and willingness to encourage risk-taking as we pursue solutions to difficult challenges. This will require that we adapt well to changing circumstances and introduce flexibility in the design of our programs. Above all, a determination to achieve will serve as the foundation for success.


Second, we cannot accomplish the goals we have set for ourselves without working collaboratively. The challenges we see in our urban environment and in the broader world are large and complex. We must utilize and grow our Partnerships. Our strong and long-standing relationships with co-op employers will form the foundation of these collaborative efforts. We will continue to expand our network of partnerships with corporations, hospitals, foundations, museums, government, nonprofit agencies, the public sector, community agencies, and other universities as we develop new and innovative ways of extending experiential learning. We will continue to make students our partners in optimizing their education, both inside and outside the classroom. It is only by creatively combining the best thinking of our partners with the best thinking Northeastern has to offer that we will be able to collectively solve the world's problems.


Third, we must embrace Diversity in all its forms. Developing an organization in which people from different backgrounds, with different approaches to problem-solving and different ways of perceiving the world, feel comfortable challenging assumptions leads to a creative, imaginative environment that will propel the University forward. The world is changing rapidly. Our students must be able to reevaluate conventional thinking and understand the benefits of learning in an environment rich with diversity.

Technological Innovation

Fourth, the pace of Technological Innovation is accelerating at a rate that will open new opportunities for the delivery of education and the pursuit of research. Our challenge will be to embrace appropriate technologies that are consistent with our values, needs, and interests. Technology is a critical element in our quest to be more global and to develop a teaching and learning process that blends traditional methods of instruction with emerging technologies to support an active learning experience.

Organizational Effectiveness

Fifth, the capacity of the University to manage change and develop new programs and services will depend on our commitment to Organizational Effectiveness. Northeastern is a large, complex university with many interests and activities. We are an institution that values the community of faculty and staff members as essential partners in achieving our vision. The resources needed to support the development of new initiatives while ensuring the fulfillment of existing commitments will come in part from increasing levels of efficiency and productivity across the University. New resources will be developed through the leadership of those who will embrace the aspiration of the University to be characterized by excellence, distinctiveness, and innovation.

The Academic Plan for Northeastern University is designed to establish clear priorities for the institution and set the context for decision-making in the years ahead. The strategies and initiatives presented will enable faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends and trustees to focus energy on these priorities as we commit to a shared vision for a truly great university.

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