Through its century-old experiential learning signature educational environment, Northeastern University has graduated world leaders that serve as change agents in sciences, arts, policy-making, and many other spheres.

Today, this distinctive model of education resonates with a record number of undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies applicants who want to leverage the experiential opportunities Northeastern provides to achieve their highest potential in attaining personal and professional development and be better prepared to serve societal needs. The experiences that the university provides offers the ideal research laboratory to deeply understand the nuanced nature of experiential learning environment with its diverse pedagogical and curricular practices, and cultural norms.

Positioned at Northeastern University, the Research Institute for Experiential Learning Science (RIELS) takes a holistic, multi-method approach to understanding the overall eco-system of experiential learning environment, including mechanisms behind experiential learning’s micro-impact on individual student development to its macro-impact on the potential it has in shaping the future of the workforce. This research is achieved through a network of researchers including but not limited to psychologists, sociologists, neuroscientists, economists and network scientists, those who work directly with students and employers, and those stakeholders who are positioned in the workforce and government.

Experiential Learning & Experiential Learning Science

Experiential learning is, simply put, learning by doing or engagement, whereby a learner becomes engaged in a sense making process of a significant experience, an experience that serves as a cradle of learning (Beard and Wilson, 2010). This type of learning integrates theory and practice because “theory lacks meaning outside of practice” (Eyler, 2009). While experiential learning can and often does take place in classroom, lab and studio situations, it is much more powerful and robust when students have multiple iterative and reflective opportunities to use their knowledge and practice their skills in authentic, real-world situations with real parameters, constraints and consequences for their decisions and behavior. Furthermore, experiential education prompts new learning when students are put in unfamiliar situations for which they are not prepared and yet must act to complete a task. In doing so, experiential learning supports development and provides practice in using life-long and self-directed learning skills that students will need to invoke throughout their lives in order to continuously meet new personal and professional challenges.

Experiential Learning Science is an interdisciplinary field consisting of psychologists, sociologists, cognitive scientists, economists, network scientists, and all others who bring together the knowledge, methodologies and approaches of their fields to deepen the understanding of the mechanisms behind experiential learning and its impact on student success in the workforce.


Team Members

Yevgeniya V Zastavker

Yevgeniya V Zastavker, PhD

Director of Research Institute for Experiential Learning Science, RIELS

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Cigdem Talgar

Susan Chang, PhD

Senior Associate Director of Academic Assessment Group

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Janna Ferguson, PhD

Senior Research Analyst for Student Learning

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Jen Lehmann

Jennifer Lehmann, MA

Assistant Director of Academic Assessment Group

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Affiliated Staff

Cigdem Talgar

Cigdem P Talgar, PhD

Assistant Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning

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Susan Ambrose

Susan Ambrose, PhD

Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education & Experiential Learning

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RIELS Partners

Becca Berkey

Becca Berkey, PhD

Director, Service-Learning

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Nakeisha Cody

Nakeisha Cody, PhD

Associate Director, Student Development and Global Engagement, John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute

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Christopher Gallagher

Christopher Gallagher, PhD

Professor, English

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Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher, EdD

Executive Director, Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy

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Wolfgang Gatterbauer

Wolfgang Gatterbauer, PhD

Associate Professor, Computer and Information Science

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Lorna Hayward

Lorna Hayward, PhD

Associate Professor, Physical Therapy, Movement & Rehabilitation Science

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Jamie Ladge

Jamie Ladge, PhD

Associate Professor, Management and Organizational Development

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Alicia Sasser Modestino

Alicia Sasser Modestino, PhD

Associate Professor, Public Policy and Urban Affairs and Economics
Associate Director, Dukakis Center

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Corliss Thompson

Corliss Thompson, PhD

Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education

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Lydia Young

Lydia Young, PhD

Associate Dean, Graduate School of Education

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