News & Recognition

Service-​​learning shines at Northeastern

Freshman John Sirisuth discusses his service-learning experience at Thursday's Showcasing & Recognizing Spring 2012 Service-Learning Partnerships event at the Fenway Center. Photo by Kristie Gillooly

It’s easy for num­bers to tell Northeastern’s service-​​learning story: Over the last semester, some 430 stu­dents com­pleted nearly 13,000 hours of ser­vice for 52 community-​​based part­ners under the guid­ance of 19 fac­ulty mem­bers and 23 teaching assistants.

But another number stands out to freshman John Sirisuth: 30.

That’s how many pounds one woman, who was par­tic­i­pating in Northeastern’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Futurespro­gram, told him she had lost by taking Zumba classes. The pro­gram edu­cates fam­i­lies about the impor­tance of healthy eating and phys­ical activity.

“That’s what really made things real,” Sirisuth told stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff who gath­ered in the Fenway Center on Thursday morning for the Show­casing and Rec­og­nizing Spring 2012 Ser­vice Learning Part­ner­ships event.

Sirisuth, who took a service-​​learning class for unde­clared stu­dents called Con­nec­tions and Deci­sions, added, “It was great to make a real dif­fer­ence in the health of our community.”

Inte­grating com­mu­nity ser­vice into the cur­riculum strengthens and enhances class­room learning, noted Carlos Cruz, a Spanish lec­turer who teaches a service-​​learning class called Advanced Spanish Business.

“My stu­dents have an oppor­tu­nity to interact with the Spanish-​​speaking com­mu­nity while improving their lan­guage skills and under­standing of the cul­ture,” Cruz said.

Thursday’s service-​​learning event, held reg­u­larly at the end of fall and spring semes­ters, gives North­eastern stu­dents and fac­ulty mem­bers a chance to pause and reflect on the strong part­ner­ships they have built with com­mu­nity orga­ni­za­tions that work directly with Bostonians.

“I look out and I see our stu­dents and com­mu­nity part­ners that make this city a better place every day,” said John Tobin, a former Boston city coun­cilor and Northeastern’s vice pres­i­dent for City and Com­mu­nity Affairs. “I know that you know the sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges that so many in our city face every single day, and I know that you also are making their lives better.”

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This article was originally posted on Northeastern News. Read it here.

The journey from idea to reality

Brian Racca

While on co-op at a global engineering firm, Northeastern University junior Brian Racca was confronted with a vexing challenge of redesigning a small, but critical component of a nuclear reactor valve.

“There were so many different design configurations I went through. I can’t say how many pieces of paper that I went through. There were piles of them,” said Racca, who ultimately produced a custom design that suited the needs of the U.K.-based company, The Weir Group PLC.

The task not only tested Racca’s ability to understand the valve’s intricate design, but it forced him to think about why the part needed to be replaced — the type of larger question engineers face every day in the real world. As a result, he gained valuable experience addressing engineering challenges in ways he’d never done before.

“There is always more than one way to look at an engineering problem,” Racca said. “Whenever I approached someone at Weir with a question, they’d always answer it with another question. It definitely helped me learn as much as I did.”

Racca, a mechanical engineering major, spent six months on co-op last year working at Weir. He tackled numerous engineering design projects that came across his desk, helping the company improve engineering solutions, often under pressure and tight deadlines. The branch where Racca was located in Ipswich, Mass., produces valves used for a range of applications in power plants, nuclear plants and other commercial facilities. The company’s valves are manufactured and used in plants throughout the world.

One of his assignments involved studying a nuclear power plant valve that carries river water but was collecting too much dirt and sediment. He fixed the problem by simulating tests to discover how to reduce the amount of friction inside the valve.

For another assignment, Racca assessed the best properties of two similar valve designs and worked to integrate them into one new design to improve efficiency and lower costs. A third task involved calculating the maximum amount of stress different valves could handle on the job.

Racca said his hands-on experience at Weir would pay huge dividends in the future, particularly because of the critical-thinking skills he developed there.

“One of the biggest things I wanted to take out of this co-op was the design experience — how you go about designing a part, and how you make it a reality,” he said.

For more information, please contact Greg St. Martin at 617-373-5463 or at

Medical co-op delivers on student’s wish

Third-year biology student Pritika Patel squeezed into a closet-sized makeshift emergency room at a public health clinic in Cape Town, South Africa, to help a woman give birth to twins. On co-op from January to April, Patel worked closely with nurse practitioners and low-income patients at a clinic in Masipumelele, a township in Cape Town.