Sara Ewell named Chair of the Delegates Council for Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate

Sara Ewell, Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs, began her role as Chair of the Delegates Council for the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) last month. This prestigious leadership position speaks to Sara’s commitment to advancing scholar-practitioner research with real-world impact for the EdD program – not only at Northeastern but around the country and the world.

CPED is an international network of 135+ schools of education leading the charge to transform the Education Doctorate. According to its website:

Members are committed to rethinking advanced educational preparation through improved EdD program designs that offer academic rigor, practical impact, applied research, and value. CPED, the first action-oriented effort working to distinguish the EdD from the PhD, defines the EdD as one that prepares educators to become Scholarly Practitioners who can apply appropriate and specific practices, generate new knowledge, and steward the profession.

Elected as the Delegate Chair-Elect for CPED in Fall 2022, Sara’s tenure as the chair started in January 2024. In this role, Sara will also serve on the Board of Directors for CPED from January 2024 to December 2025.

More information:

  1. https://www.cpedinitiative.org/deans-delegates-council
  2. https://www.onlineeddprograms.com/leadership-interviews/dr-sara-ewell

GSE faculty publish a two-volume book sharing the national impact of “action research”

When students graduate with their EdD at Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies, they have already made an impact. That’s because the EdD program is centered on principles of “action research” and the dissertations involve comprehensive research, as well as thoughtful implementation.

Doctoral Hooding Ceremony for CPS in Matthews Arena on May 11, 2017. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Sara Ewell, Joe McNabb, and Joan Giblin collaborated on a comprehensive overview of national research led by EdD students around the country. This two-volume book highlights the work of graduate students whose EdD programs share Northeastern’s partnership with the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) – an international organization dedicated to transforming the Education Doctorate into the Professional Practice Doctorate in Education.

According to its website:

“Members are committed to rethinking advanced educational preparation through improved EdD program designs that offer academic rigor, practical impact, applied research, and value. CPED, the first action-oriented effort working to distinguish the EdD from the PhD, defines the EdD as one that prepares educators to become Scholarly Practitioners who can apply appropriate and specific practices, generate new knowledge, and steward the profession.”

The books are available at Information Age Publishing: https://www.infoagepub.com/authors/joe-mcnabb

We sat down with one of the collaborators, professor of practice and full-time faculty member, Joe McNabb, to learn more about the importance of this work and the value of Northeastern’s EdD program.

Q: What is “action research”

Action research is really at the heart of how we establish the EdD as an advanced professional degree — such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) — versus a PhD which is more of an academic research degree. It moves away from traditional research by taking the step beyond just making recommendations, to actually implementing change based on rigorous research findings. For EdD students, when they graduate with their doctorate, they are armed not only with a degree but with a story of how their research resulted in meaningful change with significant impact.

Q: Why is this approach to “action research” so important?

Action research can empower all administrators in higher education to engage more effectively in resolving challenges in colleges and universities.

The first volume of the work we published, Faculty Development: Achieving Change Through Action Research, presents a compelling collection of chapters that explore faculty development through the lens of action research, tackling a diverse array of challenges with innovative solutions. Chapters include Cragg’s investigation into the barriers preventing faculty from implementing digital formative assessments in a top-tier business school highlights crucial issues of self-efficacy and time. Brewer’s examination of developmental English courses offers insightful structural and pedagogical strategies to enhance student success.

The second volume, Taking Action: Creating Sustainable Change in Student Affairs is an insightful compilation that utilizes action research to tackle complex issues in student development and support. Through a series of chapters, the volume delves into various facets of student life and administration, offering valuable findings and recommendations such as Tresselor-Gelok’s exploration of leadership styles in student affairs and Bevins’ work that highlights the benefits of peer-mentoring for first-generation students’ financial resource access.

Q: How did you decide what students to include in the book?

We did an open call for book chapters and reviewed all the proposals. Those that we kept were those that really demonstrated the impact of action research. We looked for highly rigorous research as well as measurable impact. The call was answered by universities across the country who are part of the CPED network, and the results were truly moving.

Q: Why did CPS decide to join the CPED network?

Sara Ewell was the vision for moving in this direction. We wanted our students to do something with their degree instead of just getting a piece of paper. She really created this vision in 2017 and 2018. We introduced the program in Fall 2018 — pivoting away from the traditional model so our students can take away high-impact skills.

This is even more meaningful when you consider the mean age of our students is 43. Most are mid-career professionals who are looking for ways to not only advance their careers, in higher ed, K-12, or non-profit spheres but make an impact. We have students from all over the country, representing community colleges, private liberal arts colleges, specialized colleges in fashion and design, prestigious global research universities, and Ivy League and public research universities. It really is a broad and diverse network of seasoned professionals generating remarkable work.

Progress never ages: Award-winning EdD student shines new light on ways to dismantle barriers to higher education

When Mark Scheinbaum receives his doctoral hood at the College of Professional Studies’ graduation ceremony this May, he may just be the oldest EdD graduate in the college. 76 years young, Mark has been in pursuit of his doctoral degree off and on for much of his life. It was in part because of the challenges he faced as a first-generation student, balancing the demands of life and family with his educational aspirations, that his doctoral thesis centered on access to higher ed. Specifically, for those who have been historically marginalized.

The result of that research culminated in a documentary video that has subsequently been recognized by several national and international film competitions, most recently winning the Prague International Film Festival for the Best Student Film.

According to Mark, one of the most salient takeaways from his research demonstrated the need to stop minimizing the nuance of individual needs such as intersectionality, language, physical limitations, and financial challenges, and start to listen to the stories that encompass a patchwork of multiple barriers.

This is particularly true in today’s political climate, Mark added, where programs such as affirmative action or DEI initiatives are increasingly under fire.

A resident of Florida, Mark notes that in his home state the misperception around programs such as these center on a wildly incorrect assumption that they represent some kind of “free ticket” at the expense of others.

While some of these programs may open doors to access what may have previously been out of reach for some prospective students, these programs are not a panacea for systemic barriers, It’s so important that people have a much more nuanced understanding of how difficult it is for so many to not just get into school, but finish with a degree.

Mark Scheinbaum

In all of the interviews he conducted with six first-generation students at institutions across different parts of the country, he found that the motivation and inspiration that got them all over the finish line was their ability to dig deep to find motivation, make connections, and build relationships with people who could be a resource for the incredible financial, logistical, and mental load of education while working and caring for a family.

Sitting down with Mark, he shared why this research was so important to him and what he hopes institutions like Northeastern and others will learn from it.

What inspired you to research first-gen students from historically marginalized communities?

I was inspired by the strength and dedication of my fellow first-generation students.

Growing up in New York at a time when first-generation students such as myself often received free tuition at the City University of New York (CUNY) has always inspired me to be a proactive advocate of fighting educational barriers for underserved students. But the monumental shift that took place during the pandemic where we transitioned to online classes was the catalyst for re-focusing my doctoral research in this realm.

Overwhelmingly, my school is first-generation – reportedly the highest percentage in the United States. We were able to craft online study groups, and live video final presentations, and when family and health issues emerged (we had several students whose family members died during the pandemic), we had cohorts do “live intros” to pre-recorded videos or PowerPoint presentations. The bottom line is that the creation of a “pass/fail/incomplete” option by the provost created a demonstrable increase in collaborative efforts, substantive caucus performance, and “fun” with lasting collegial relationships created because every weekly activity was not producing questions of, “What is my grade?” First-generation and international students who are often the only members of their household to graduate from high school, and who feel pressured to “show me your report card,” or answer the question “Why did you only get a ‘B’?” were submitting work products that were superior to the face-to-face class, and certainly, other courses where the instructor would “teach to the test.”

Thus, if the worst pandemic in 102 years could enable first-generation students from a broadly self-identified group of Historically Marginalized Communities (HMCs) to move closer to their bachelor’s degrees, and become motivated to fulfill post-graduate and professional school desires, why not deeply examine the literature and research existing or (sadly) lacking in this investigation?

What most surprised you about this research?

I was most surprised by the six amazing interviewees who recounted—in very specific detail—how self-motivation, superior academic achievement, and myriad variables ultimately motivated them to apply to graduate school. While debate rages about the “fairness” of programs such as affirmative action or DEI, none of these represent any kind of “free ticket” to success. I was really impressed by just how critical it is to examine the intersectionality of language, physical limitations, and financial challenges, and really listen to the complex stories of multiple barriers faced by first-gen students.

What major thing do you think needs to change to make access to higher ed more equitable for all learners?

Top administrators, especially at the graduate and professional level, need to enhance and enrich DEI training, not eliminate the discipline (as in Florida), and actively build bridges with undergraduate programs in Historically Marginalized Community (HMC) recruiting.

Deeper training for advisers and mentors, counselors, graduate school recruiters, and paid and unpaid graduate school marketers organizing “career fairs” or workshops needs to include the broadest definitions of self-identified HMC members. For example, the Nicaraguan woman coming to the United States because her sexual orientation endangered her in her home country; settling in a Brazilian neighborhood in Miami where she had to perfect Portuguese before achieving fluency in English; diagnosed with cancer and unable to afford any health insurance, and attempting to find funds for transportation to dialysis for her mom three days a week, is not defined by a “category.” Graduate and professional schools stereotyping Latinx undergraduates, for example, as best suited for nursing, social work, counseling, dietary and nutritional specialties, no matter what the student’s actual passions for engineering, medicine, or architecture might be, play into historical and systemic barriers, that are the essence of the much-maligned subject of critical race theory.

Anything else you’d like to add?

As an older student, there were moments when financial and family responsibilities, mounting student loans, and an entire summer term missed because of eye surgery, brought me close to quitting. My chair, my GSERA colleagues, and an unexpectedly generous grant from the savior of the entire project: Dr.Karl Reid, and his NU Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, allowed me to assemble the professional production and post-production talent needed to complete my doctoral research.

I am so grateful for the support I received and am invested in identifying ways that I can take what I have learned to reduce the burden and barriers for graduate education for more HMC members.

Alumni Spotlight: Denise Reid: Double Husky, and A Collector of ‘Firsts’

A “Double Husky” is someone who attains more than one degree at Northeastern University.

In Denise Reid’s case, as the ‘Double Husky’ Associate Director of Communications, Social Media, and Brand Management for the College of Professional Studies (CPS), she helps the college understand the value of the online community. And she understands our mission, from more than one perspective.

In the last decade, Reid has applied her unique life experience to strategic action for Northeastern University on the digital front. She graduated with an MBA from D’Amore Mckim School of Business while working full-time to build and manage the university’s social media platforms. She grew these platforms to valuable size, and she continues to build on these strengths.

Reid was born in Boston and raised by her parents, Dwayne and Bridgette, both Jamaican immigrants. When she was just ten years old, her father was deported after being racially profiled and harassed by a client who hired his livery service. The entire family was forced to return to Jamaica, where Reid continued her education at a private school. She said, “My parents weren’t wealthy, but they always prioritized education for their kids.”

Five years later, at 15 years old, Reid was sent back to Boston by her parents to attend high school. She said,

“They thought it was best to send me back and my mom was like ‘You need to go to college’. While she didn’t go herself, she knew the value of it [education].”

She moved in with her grandparents who resided in Dorchester, and she attended Boston Public School (BPS). Her re-emigration was a difficult transition. “I live between two different worlds. I’m Jamaican but was born here. So, the Jamaicans are like ‘You’re not Jamaican’ and I’m like ‘but I am.’ Then I move back to the States and the Americans are like ‘You’re not American’ and I’m like ‘But I am’.”

While at BPS, Reid experienced a curriculum that was less rigorous than it was in Jamaica, and she soon found herself enrolled in advanced placement (AP) classes for the duration of her high school years. She said, “By my senior year, I attended [a prominent Boston-based university] through a partnership program that my principal championed. I received college credit for English 101 and English 102 courses and every day, we were allowed to leave school at BPS to attend class on university campus and this experience gave me a window into college and for the first time.” she said.

During this time, Reid experienced another ‘first’. “Unfortunately, my time in the partnership program also gave me a window into the world of ‘microaggressions’. Some of the professors treated us differently, and it was the first time I really felt marginalized.” Reid describes professors assigning books about poor inner-city circumstances and then expecting the teens to relate to its subject matter directly.

“They would intensely ask, ‘How do you feel when you read stuff like this?’ I’m looking at this professor like ‘I didn’t realize that you thought I was poor!’ It was the first time I felt that a narrative was being pushed on me from the outside. And then I started to wonder, ‘Is this really how the world sees me, or am I just being painted this way?’” Reid says that this experience also prepared her with expectations of going to a predominantly white institution as a Black student. She said, “I realized I needed to learn how to navigate that.”

So I started to take responsibility over my own narrative because I didn’t want people to place that on my authentic identity. If you’re going to know me, you will learn that from me and not what you think you learned from TV or wherever

DENISE REID

Reid said, “This was the first time I could identify with my father’s struggle because he came to the U.S. as a ‘whole citizen’ earning a living as a cab driver and one encounter with a customer led to him having to defend himself in an environment where they essentially forced him to plead guilty to charges that ultimately got him deported.” She said, “They were forcing my dad to be a person he wasn’t, and in my classroom as a high schooler, some painted me to be who they thought I was, and that was the first time I realized all of this.”

After graduating high school, Reid applied to a program called ‘Bottom Line’ which provides college counseling for inner-city youth. The program identified and secured scholarships that paid the way for Reid’s first year at St. Johns University in Queens, New York. But she failed to secure funding for the second year. “It was a diverse college and I loved being immersed in all the cultures,” she said.

Without the ability to pay after that second year, Reid returned to Boston in 2010 and began working in retail at places like Forever 21 and H&M – and she felt depressed. Resolved to resume her education, she soon enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. “I decided to just take one class,” she said.

That one class turned into two, then three.

Introduction to Northeastern

In 2011, a friend who worked at the Northeastern Office of Student Employment called to see if Reid wanted to work a summer job in that department. She jumped at the chance. The office’s executive assistant went on maternity leave and that provided Reid the opportunity to extend her employment there. While in that role, two things happened: a large digital media project presented itself and they asked Reid to work on it, and the former executive assistant did not return from her second maternity leave of absence. At 19, Reid landed her first full-time job working on digital media strategy at Northeastern.

That’s when Reid enrolled in the Organizational Communication bachelor’s program at CPS, made possible by the program’s evening course schedule. She recalls, “Balancing a full-time job with studying didn’t really give me the full experience of being a college student; I was able to do a couple of things in my job that did prove helpful to the program, but I didn’t feel like I walked away with a strong skill set that made me an immediately attractive candidate in my field.” she said.

In 2018, Reid became the first person in her family to attain a bachelor’s degree.

Still working in the Student Employment office, Reid decided to use her free time to network. “I got more involved in committees at Northeastern, like NU Dream (for Black and Brown faculty) and other things. There are so many groups on campus to explore,” she said.

By the end of the year, her boss recommended her for a full-time role in the Residential Life Offices for digital media. “Around that time across most industries, people were underestimating or just not understanding the value of social media but they also understood that they needed to have it, so my job included doing budgets and operational tasks in addition to the social media part,” she said. Reid built the office’s first social media platform, and in December 2019, she was asked to work at CPS as the college’s Student Engagement Manager, a role that was an amalgamation of communications, events, and social media. Just like she had done at Residential Life, Reid built out the college’s first comprehensive social media platform for the college and is still growing its audience.

She also thought about going back to school. In January 2020, Reid enrolled in the Master of Business Administration with a concentration in marketing. “Just in time for the pandemic!” she jokes.

Shortly after both her master’s program and the COVID pandemic began, George Floyd was murdered and the country rallied behind Civil Rights advocacy and Black Lives Matter protests. Reid, alongside Earlene Avalon, established CPS’s first Equity and Inclusion Council to advise the Dean. That initiative yielded the college’s first DEI Director, a role appointed to Magali Feruzi.

This was a challenging time for Reid.

“I enrolled in my MBA so excited to get the support of a collaborative environment and that was all gone as we migrated to online learning in isolation. By the end of my first year, I contemplated quitting, and I almost did!”

– Denise Reid

Reid took a hiatus from her studies in the first semester of 2021. “It was just a lot. I needed to take time for myself; I had to process all of it. But when I saw how many credits I had left to finish, I saw that I was halfway there and realized ‘I can’t give up now!’”, she said.

Reid graduated with her MBA in May 2023. She was the first in her family to attain a master’s degree.

Credited with crafting CPS’s first social media strategy, and now equipped with knowledge of the strategic framework to go even further in her career, Reid had successfully established a powerful Instagram presence on the student side and the CPS Dean asked her if she could do the same for the entire college.

In 2022, Reid stepped into her current role as Associate Director of Communications, Social Media, and Brand Management.

I love making each of our social platforms powerful drivers of our key message of access and opportunity to education that transforms futures. Social media is about storytelling, experimenting, and finding community in relatability. I leaned into my own personal narrative to make this happen for CPS, and I realized when I started our Instagram, as a student myself, that what I am actively going through is relatable to our student population.”

Denise Reid

“I believe the strength of our college is the power to storytell. It really transforms the future. This college always seems to have the genetic makeup of resilience. Students that come through here, faculty and staff, are resilient leaders, and their stories not only deserve to be told but telling their stories keep the door open for those who may not otherwise see their way out of their circumstances.” she said.

Transforming the future of education through a social justice lens.

Faculty in CPS’s EdD program prioritized compassion and connection in advancing curriculum development and research in a variety of education settings. As a result, 92% of graduating EdD students actively participated in change initiatives focused on social justice.

Sara Ewell, Director of the EDD Graduate School of Education
Director of the EDD Graduate School of Education, Sara Ewell does work outside in the Richardson Plaza on Thursday, August 26, 2021. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Learn more in this recently published paper “Developing and Sustaining Northeastern’s EdD Program During and Post Pandemic” in Impacting Education.

Journal on Transforming Professional Practice:

https://impactinged.pitt.edu/ojs/ImpactingEd/article/view/409/421

A “College of Access”

“What we are essentially doing is incorporating a value for lifelong learning,” explains Erin Clair, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs. “This is a story of empowerment, because not all students are going to have a linear path and access to opportunity.”

Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies (CPS) helps nontraditional learners achieve higher levels of education that open professional doors. This work is deeply rooted in the University’s founding principles of urban engagement and experiential learning and is set to have a ripple effect for individual communities and national workforce development goals.

“This is the ‘access mission of CPS’. Our purpose is clear, regardless of the jargon: we are creating access however we can. It’s a Robinhood-type story, its mission driven, and it’s why I’m here,”

Erin Clair

CPS Executive Director of Marketing and Communications, Joe Brock, said, “Dating back to the founding of CPS’ (formerly known as University College), we have provided opportunities for working adults to complete their bachelor’s degree, meeting them where they are with educational excellence, and flexibility to enable their educational goals. This hasn’t changed over the years as we continue to expand and grow our partnerships with community colleges and organizations that focus on access for underrepresented communities.”

The college has amassed over 40 partnerships with community colleges across the country. Most are articulation agreements, which maximize credit transfer into Northeastern University and count towards a higher degree. But some of the partnerships exemplify more resourced options, include Middlesex Community College, Roxbury Community College, and Miami Dade Community College, where each comes with either public grants or philanthropic sources for scholarship and provides additional resources for students. This, coupled with the University’s unique placement as the number one University in coop experience [as listed by US News], becomes a compelling offering.

Clair’s team is responsible for the entire program that creates these partnerships, which began in 2017 when Liz Zuilick, formerly CPS Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and now Vice Chancellor of Strategic Planning & Projects, spearheaded a partnership between CPS and Middlesex Community College (MCC). The partnership, which is currently in its fifth and final year, received a $4.4 million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award scholarships to low-income and under-represented minority students in biotechnology who participate in an accelerated Associates to Masters’ Degree Program, known as “A2M.”

As an example of impact, in 2021-2022, the partnership with MCC served 40 students at the Associate’s level, 48 at the Bachelor’s level, and 14 at the Master’s level, with 92 distinct students. A total of 34 students graduated from one of these degree programs within the calendar year.

In 2020, Northeastern University’s President Joseph E. Aoun established the ‘Experience Unleashed’ strategic vision, which committed the University to a mission of equitable access across its global campus network. Part of this effort, known as the ‘Impact Engine’ initiative, formally adopted the A2M bachelor’s completion program as an approach to meeting its goal of ‘making the world a better, more equitable place through access to higher education’.

The University is currently working on replicating the approach at a faster pace throughout its global campus network, focusing on partnering with community colleges that are located in proximity to Northeastern campus locations. The hope is that many of these partnerships will grow to attract additional resources that will benefit students.

As testament to the college’s agility in making higher education accessible beyond barriers, the approach has taken many forms – A2M, eA2M, PlusOnes, and Pathways are all common names associated with it. The overarching focus is the same: to provide a “bachelor, and beyond, completion initiative” aimed to equip learners with whatever it takes to provide them with professional opportunities, while simultaneously removing barriers to higher education.

Who’s Behind the Effort

“Through the eA2M Model, we plan to reach learners in the regions surrounding our global campus sites. In addition to experiential opportunities, we offer funding support, support with childcare, and 1:1 student coaching that will help students navigate the complexities of college learning!” said Chris Cook, Director of Impact Engine, Professional Programs, who works to grow partnerships through what is referred to as the Experiential Associates to Masters (eA2M) model.

“We strategically align our programming to be in fields where there is high demand and pathways to economic viability. We know there is significant underrepresentation in high skill, high paying jobs, we intend to support incredible learners to develop those skills and access those jobs! This objective is tied to national workforce development and that approach is championed by Northeastern.”

Chris Cook

Oftentimes, the students who are taking advantage of these partnerships are first generation college students, the first ones in their family to attend college or university.

Earlene Avalon , Erin Clair , and Francesca Grippa (left to right)

“When you are the first person in your family to pursue a college degree, you do not necessarily have access to information on how to best navigate a complex college system.”

Earlene Avalon, Associate Teaching Professor and Director of the Lowell Institute School, who recently helped launch CPS’s newest Bachelor completion partnership with Roxbury Community College.

The partnership is supported by the $1M Federal grant awarded to the application that Avalon co-wrote with Francesca Grippa, Professor and Associate Dean of Research for CPS Undergraduate Programs. The provides 30-50 students scholarship opportunities in STEM related fields of healthcare, technology and biotech.

Avalon is herself a first-generation college grad who understands the barriers faced. “This can be a huge barrier, coupled with the fact that some students have to work full-time or are raising a family, all while pursuing their degree.” she said.

Each enriched partnership aims to be tailored to the socio demographic needs of the student body. In the case of Miami Dade Community College, the partnership aims to provide childcare to accommodate the need voiced by the prospective student body, many of whom are young mothers trying to gain professional opportunities through higher education. Wherever possible, the partnerships are funded by a third party like a state or federal grant that supports workforce development.

“This work is about building a pathway to prosperity not just for students, but also prosperity for the country because of this talented workforce that we know nothing about,” said Deb Jencunas, one of many CPS change agents at the helm of forging these community partnerships. As Director of Pathway Partnerships, Jencunas primarily works to build partnerships that support bachelor completion programs.

“Because they lack access to finance, they haven’t had the opportunity to develop professionally beyond high school or have greatly struggled to do so. What would our world look like if access wasn’t a challenge? That’s why I do this.”

Deb Jencunas

When asked why Northeastern University is so attractive to learners, Jencunas explains that CPS’s direct connection to industries and professional fields offer students an immediate benefit of a network.

Northeastern’s Alumni network is also actively supporting this model. CPS Director of Development Tara Esfahanian says, “Many of our donors are alumni, themselves once in the position of being first generation college graduates that were helped by this approach. They are usually eager and excited to give back in the same way they were given to.”

The Navigator

One of the most unique aspects of the funded partnership model is in the form of direct support from student academic support coaches called ‘CPS Navigators’, whose role is to walk each student through the process of onboarding into a program at Northeastern University.

Mary McCarthy, CPS Director of Strategic Partnership of Funds, seeks to activate philanthropic support from a variety of sources including federal monies, community college partnerships, corporate and foundations sponsorships, and the tremendous generosity of alumni and friends, to enable students to enter and excel in higher education.

“That support can come in many forms including endowed or current-use scholarship awards, in addition to wrap-around services that provide students with textbooks, laptops, and personnel support in the form of the Navigator role. A Navigator is a CPS employee whose responsibility is to partner with students to help them navigate the unique complexities of higher ed administration. CPS is pleased to have spearheaded this model for success, wherein A2M students have a steadfast ally in navigating the various hurdles of admissions, enrollment, matriculation, and degree completion. In different cities, student experience unique region-specific needs. The Navigator can be particularly useful in diagnosing the nuanced needs of a given region, allowing us to successfully clear those unique hurdles. While I have only been at Northeastern a short time, in my 26 years in Higher Education I have never witnessed a more robust and generous student support infrastructure.”

Mary McCarthy

Tahir Abbas is the Navigator for the MCC A2M Program Biotech who facilitates student transitions from Middlesex Community College into Northeastern University. His office is located within MCC and students can drop by to visit him.

Visibility is really important, by having this office and being located at the community college, we are demonstrating how committed and accessible the program really is.”

Tahir Abbas
Tahir Abbas

Abbas helps at every stage of the process, from the application process all the way to placing them in a job internship and anything else in between, including aligning the student with financial assistance, helping with funding tuition, textbooks, or parking passes. Tahir also helps students determine their eligibility for financial support. For example, the MCC Tech program provides students with $5k per semester with a maximum cap of $10k per year. The typical out-of-pocket cost to students is $2-3k per semester. Sometimes, Tahir will work to find alternative funding sources to cover even that.

The navigator role is a major factor in the success of the whole approach. The value lies in specialized attention tailored to the needs of each student.

“If a student comes to me, I never send them away. Universities have complex financial aid and enrollment systems, but if students come to me, I help them figure that out. Once they trust me, they begin to believe they can accomplish bigger goals with this sort of support behind them.”

Tahir Abbas

Abbas related that the hardest part of the job can be quite labor intensive: delivering textbooks. “Sometimes our students are single parents, or pregnant, so I deliver to the house. And I don’t mind because it helps, and I like that.” Abbas continues, “The students are supposed to return those books at the end of the semester. In December, I will drive again to collect them!”

It’s all in a day’s work for the CPS team that is helping students achieve goals they never knew were possible.

The Student Perspective: The shock and confusion that comes with being new to America

Oishika Hota, MS Media Innovation and Data Communication, class of 2024 Graduate, talks about her experience as an International student

One of the great privileges I have been offered is that of exposure. Starting from school all the way to graduate school here at Northeastern, every step I have taken has expanded my world significantly. But nothing has done the job like moving my life halfway across the globe.

Coming from Mumbai, Maharashtra, the most populous city in India, a land known for its vast array of cultures, languages, and traditions, I thought I had seen it all. However, the U.S. presented an even more intricate mosaic of backgrounds, beliefs, and practices. In India, a fusion of varied traditions and customs maintains its quintessential Indian identity despite the diversity. On the other hand, the US displays an intricate mosaic, presenting influences from diverse corners of the globe, resulting in a distinctive cultural mix. I feel like I am part of a melting pot, and navigating this diverse tapestry is one of my favorite challenges as an International Student in America.

Oishika Hota, MS Media Innovation and Data Communication, class of 2024 Graduate

“There is a difference between knowing something and actually experiencing it.”

Oishika Hota

Whatever I knew about the U.S. before landing here was from my consumption of American pop culture. As a fan of chick flicks, Legally Blonde and Pitch Perfect shaped the way I perceived the American Collegiate experience. Apart from that, I had also watched enough TV shows and movies to anticipate a lot of what was thrown at me: the small talk, the food, and the cold weather. When Mindy Kaling made New York winters seem warm compared to Boston in “The Mindy Project,” I knew I had to be prepared. But there is a difference between knowing something and actually experiencing it.

For all the small talk America offers, I had a lot of trouble making friends — especially as a graduate school student, where forming a community in a class full of people from several countries is, to put it simply, hard. Overcoming these challenges required me to step out of my comfort zone. I began attending social events organized by the university and joining clubs related to my interests. It was nerve-wracking at first, but I pushed myself to strike up conversations, even if it meant starting with a simple “hello.”

I’m not a hater of American food, but there are a few dishes that just don’t hit the mark for me. Especially when they’re missing that spicy, flavor-packed kick that Indian dishes usually bring to the table!

 While ingredients and restaurants can be found in Boston, the cost of materials and lack of variety ends up killing the taste. Even though I have learned how to cook, nothing beats the taste of food cooked in your actual home.

The cold, again, was something I was mentally prepared for, but coming from a tropical country, acclimatization did not come easy. I could finish bottles of moisturizers, but I did not understand why my skin was still dry, why I was still feeling cold after wearing my thickest jacket, which brand would protect me the best, and why it was so dark at 4:30 p.m. Despite the struggle, I found ways to keep pushing through. You find little moments of joy, like a warm cup of hot chocolate, a cozy night in with your favorite food and a movie.

With practice, my problems have changed. I feel better prepared for my second winter here, I am ready for the lull and sadness that comes with the darkness. It’s about acknowledging that this period is difficult, allowing yourself to feel it, and seeking support when needed. Whether it’s talking to a friend or a professional, sharing the burden of these winter blues can make a world of difference.

But at the end of all this, the hardest shock hasn’t been cultural, but that of the magnitude of my homesickness.  Being far away from the close-knit family and the familiar comfort of home is a struggle. Learning to adapt to a new culture is by far not an easy task. The difficulty is what has sparked resilience in me and pushed me to explore this new landscape; to develop a new support system despite the cultural and the often not-so-edible reminders that I am in a country that is not mine.

“Whether it’s talking to a friend or a professional, sharing the burden of these winter blues can make a world of difference.”

Oishika Hota
Oishika Hota, MS Media Innovation and Data Communication, class of 2024 Graduate

Moving away from home has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it has also been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. It was a slow but rewarding process. As I opened up and made an effort to bridge the cultural gaps, the move didn’t seem so bad.

Looking back at the whirlwind of the last year, I’m giving myself a mental high-five. The hurdles and bumps were tough, but they’ve turned me into a stronger and wiser version of myself. And for that, I am immensely grateful.

Annual Scholarship Reception a Huge Success!

With over 225 students receiving upwards of $300,000 from 52 scholarships – there was much to celebrate at the College of Professional Studies’ annual Undergraduate Scholarship Reception.  

Scholarship Reception at Northeastern University, Boston, MA

With the crackling anticipation of alumni donors eager to meet the recipients of their scholarship funds – and students so excited to greet and thank their benefactors all in attendance, the gathering has all the earmarks of a supportive community rooted in a legacy of achievement and of people helping people reach new heights.  
 
The celebration included inspiring remarks from two benefactors, Mani Sundaram, MS’99 and Meena Ramakrishnan, CPS’06 who each offered compelling reflections on their experience supporting financial aid:  

“Sponsoring six CPS students has been a source of immense gratification for us. We love the concept of creating a pathway for students and community colleges to gain the knowledge, skills, and credentials to align themselves with what’s going on in the industry, secure excellent jobs and build strong career trajectories.”

Mani Sundaram. MS’99

“We felt it was the right opportunity to do our part because we had been given challenges back then so both of us are delighted to be part of this program and we wish all the students here all the very best in your lives.”

Meena Ramakrishnan CPS’06

Mohamed Abougalala, Information Technology, Class of 2024 rounded out the program with a personal account of his journey to CPS from Egypt. Mohamed shared his experience arriving at CPS, saying, “The moment I stepped onto campus, I felt a sense of belonging.”   

Scholarship Reception at Northeastern University, Boston, MA

Whether a student, alumnus, donor benefactor, staff member, academic advisor, or faculty member – the annual Scholarship Reception fills the tank on good vibes with warmth and an expansive sense of the goodness and remarkable capacity of the College of Professional Studies to positively impact lives, to advance opportunity, and to building a community rooted in a culture of giving back.   

If you have any questions about the undergraduate scholarship program at the College of Professional Studies, please contact Mary McCarthy, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Funds, at [email protected]

View photos from the event here.

Welcoming Change: AQA and the CPS Evolution

When a college embraces the work needed to deliver learning opportunities that build a global network of lifelong learners, profound things happen. Leaders at the forefront of this work are causing a paradigm shift for the entire Higher Education community.

CPS embraces the unbundled approach to higher education, where traditional degree programs are broken down into smaller, more focused learning experiences offering learners greater flexibility and more numerous pathways toward achieving goals. As higher education struggles to pivot toward new course delivery and credentialing paradigms, CPS learners have quickly become the new majority; embracing them means embracing the future of higher education.

While other higher education institutions choose to ignore this reality or choose to view mixing-and-matching as a lack of degree commitment or academic ambivalence, CPS is charging ahead with innovative approaches to deliver opportunities that work for learners, meeting them where they are.

Allison Ruda, Associate Dean for Curriculum Strategy and Product Innovation, and the Academic Quality and Assessment team she leads are the Change Agents helping CPS faculty adapt to the ‘new learning economy.’ The academic quality initiative they are leading is helping the college own its forward-thinking, agile, and systematized mindset that embraces innovative teaching. The approach supports the college’s overarching mission of establishing a global network of lifelong learners.

To bring this focus to Faculty, and to cultivate a “culture of quality,” AQA has launched its first QUEST (Quality Unleashed: Empowering Skillful Teaching) series of virtual workshops, scheduled to last at least through December 2023 and its lineup of workshops covers topics from Chat GPT to conducting course design self-assessments.

The team behind the QUEST Series and other quality initiatives includes Mamta Saxena, Assistant Dean, Academic Quality and Assessment; Ori Fienberg, Academic Affairs Specialist and Lecturer; Barbara Ohrstrom, Academic Director, Online Writing Lab and Lecturer; Asim Javed, Learning and Assessment Data Analyst; and Jennifer Turrentine, Digital Learning Specialist.

Allison Ruda

“Every member of this team is here because they believe strongly in CPS’ mission. It sounds totally cliché, but when you combine that commitment with deep, subject-matter expertise and a passion for education, that’s a pretty potent force for positive change. Their humanity, and the sense of humor they bring out in each other is icing on the cake.”

Ruda says the team’s desire to shine a light on outstanding teaching, and to use QUEST as a platform to exchange ideas and diffuse effective practices has been extremely rewarding. To date, faculty members from every CPS division have been active partners not only in initiatives like QUEST, but in other aspects of the quality initiative, such as revising the CPS syllabus template to include more inclusive language, enhancing course readiness processes with the integration of new tools, and modernizing and enhancing the CPS’ use of Canvas. Many of these elements are on track to roll out more broadly in late Fall.

Before managing the AQA initiative, Allison was Senior Strategist, Program Design, with Northeastern’s Online Experiential Learning team (now EDGE). In 2013, she earned her doctorate from CPS’ Graduate School of Education. Through her varied tenure with the college, her passion for consistent improvement is evident. In 2007, when she was first hired by the university as an Instructional Designer, online programs did not yet exist at Northeastern. Since then, she has witnessed a complete revolution in how CPS’s faculty-empowered approaches placed the college in an industry leadership position, resulting in other universities fast copying their approach.

“Under Chuck Kilfoye’s leadership, NU Online began in CPS and ultimately created a strong model for online course and program development for other institutions to follow. With the level of expertise and commitment of our faculty, and the experiences we’ve gained over a decade of doing this work, I believe it’s possible—maybe even inevitable—that with continued commitment and elbow grease, we will continue to be pioneers in this space.” Ruda said.

Why is Quality Assurance important at CPS?

Looking at opportunities and challenges from new perspectives is the best way to meet new learner needs. The AQA team’s expertise is helping CPS think creatively about building a learning community where it becomes easy to have consistency and clarity in a way that ensures academic quality and student success while establishing CPS as a leader for the broader Northeastern community.

“We aren’t asking faculty to take on additional work; that would be contrary to the goal. We’re implementing processes that, once faculty adopt, will have easier ways of accomplishing the work they came here to do in the first place.”

Due to the significant amount of technological change, unbundling higher education requires different processes than what was required even ten years ago. This work requires a significant amount of organizational adaptation and change.

In line with the mission of CPS, AQA’s work is centered on designing a modern and engaging digital learning experience that fosters a lifelong love of learning. While Ruda and her team are at the beginning of the work, the goal is to eventually get to a point where CPS is centered on ‘measurable quality.’

“Allison and her team’s work is the essential piece that will enable us to really drive our mission across the globe, in a way that delivers what learners need. By enabling Faculty to work within a defined system and with valuable supports in place, they will be able to create deeply immersive learning experiences that will positively impact learners in a palpable way.”

CPS Dean Radhika Seshan.

When asked where she thinks CPS is headed in five years, Allison says, “We want to be the college and university that people look at when they wonder what the future of higher education is going to be. When people are talking about access to higher education and how it is changing to make itself more available and accessible, we want CPS to come to mind first. Because that is what we do.”

Allison holds a Doctor of Education in Curriculum, Teaching Learning, and Leadership from Northeastern. She also holds an EdM in Technology, Innovation, and Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Mount Holyoke College.

Learn more about the QUEST Series.

The Mirror Effect: Adebukola Ajao Gives Back

A look at how the College of Professional Studies succeeds in its mission of meeting Learners where they are in their lives, helping them become leaders along that journey, and simultaneously enriching and expanding the quality of the vast Northeastern network.

Adebukola Ajao, CPS Alumni, Adjunct Professor, and Business Owner, was recently honored by Northeastern University’s 2023 Women Who Empower Innovator Awards. Northeastern University also spotlighted her in a recent article and she was the Special Guest Speaker at the CPS Town Hall meeting this July.

From a young girl growing up in Roxbury, Boston, just across the street from the Northeastern campus, to becoming an adjunct professor of Digital Media at CPS now teaching the next generation of CPS Life learners, Ajao has always championed the same mission and values that CPS upholds, in both her personal, academic and professional endeavors.

In her formative years, Adebukola was chosen for the Crimson Summer Academy, a highly selective program for low-income students enrolled in Boston Public Schools. As a result, she attended Harvard Summer programs, setting her on a path to valuing education as an avenue to opportunity. Later, while taking her undergraduate degree at Emmanuel College in Africana Studies and Politics, she became active in racial advocacy. It was during her undergraduate degree that she launched a Social justice coalition called We Are the Ones, which won an NAACP Next Generation Leadership Award. Around graduation, she became a freelance journalist who traveled the country to cover stories of racial transgressions against Black Americans; her work was picked up by the Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, and other well-known outlets. Having found her voice that resonated with people via digital media, her articles continued to go viral. Through this work, Ajao’s fascination with digital media was born, and she became mesmerized by the editorial process and the power of conveying a perspective in a way that people were able to hear on digital platforms.

Adebukola Ajao
Adebukola Ajao, owner of BDY Consult marketing agency, poses for a portrait in ISEC. Ajao is one of the 2023 Women Who Empower award winners. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“I saw the power of digital and became obsessed with the editorial process.”

Adebukola Ajao

Her passion for community, and her newfound fascination with the digital space, led her to discover and engage with the Northeastern University John D. O’Bryant African American Institute. Through the support she received at the institute, she was awarded the MLK Graduate Fellowship from the institute to enroll in the CPS Digital Media Graduate Program in 2018.

“I needed a program that was truly accommodating to my situation; I worked full time, over 40 hours a week, and I needed a program that could be flexible with that,” she said. “With the [CPS Digital Media Graduate Program] program, I could do what I needed to do and go to classes at night,” she said.

She graduated in 2020, the same year that the COVID-19 pandemic struck. When asked about the challenges of graduating in that climate, Ajao insists that there were more benefits than downfalls to launching her new skill set during a time when people needed to depend upon and understand the digital space.

“It was actually great to throw myself into consultancy during the pandemic because, for the first time, many businesses were forced to acknowledge the digital sphere as a means to reach their clients; it sort of worked in my favor,” she said.

She also said it was helpful that many of her classmates and teachers were not just students, but professionals. “Sure, I graduated in chaos. But it didn’t feel like I took a big hit. While enrolled in the program, I saw the camaraderie between teachers and students and I wanted that for myself. Most of my professors were executives in marketing and they shared their industry connections, and that was valuable to me. I felt like I spent so much money in my undergrad but that I needed to make my own opportunities after that. With CPS, the opportunities were baked into the program. CPS offered me real-life connections and so much more. I was willing to leverage the Northeastern network immediately and that was powerful.”

“My professors pushed, supported, and encouraged me. They led me to see beyond what I could see. While in the program, I got exactly what I had hoped for. I felt like I gained not only friends but also colleagues that I work with to this day. The instruction I received was so powerful; it was exactly what I needed to propel me forward; I gained a lot.” she said.

Ajao recalls one professor who was particularly impactful to her; James Gardiner, lecturer of Digital and Social Media. She said, “He changed the way I thought educators should be; he was always joyful and informative and had his way of demanding excellence without being overbearing. He made me want to achieve and that approach released my fear and anxiety and just let me focus on the learning.”

“Sometimes it’s obvious,” notes James Gardner, who remains a mentor and friend to Ajao. “Ade is a natural leader, bound for success. Coaching her and accelerating her path has been really gratifying. She’s going to make a difference in the world.”

And making a difference is exactly what Ajao is focused on. Today, she helps many businesses develop brands and get their name out to market through the provision of full-scale agency services. Her business has two arms: a consultancy called BDY Consult; the other named ‘For all things Digital’, a free open-source destination for small businesses. Her approach is to target bigger companies as clients while offering a sliding scale fee structure to smaller companies, with a particular emphasis on businesses that have a community, racial, or ESG (Environmental, social, and governance)-based mission.

“Marketing is not just about making money or doing business, it’s a tool that community can use to get to freedom. It effects how people think about how people view themselves. I want to give people the tools to build a better place for everyone.”

Adebukola Ajao
Adebukola Ajao, owner of BDY Consult marketing agency, is one of the 2023 Women Who Empower award winners. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University