Year Up to Student Commencement Speaker: Puya Moghadam, BS Information Technology (‘24)

Puya Moghadam, a Year Up Boston alum, first generation college student and full-time employee at CarGurus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the student commencement speaker for the 2024 CPS Bachelor’s and Master’s graduation ceremony. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in information technology, Moghadam has overcome more than most and leaned into every opportunity he earned to realize this success.

Born in Vienna, Austria to Iranian parents, he moved to California with his family at the age of six. The relocation was driven by his father’s ambition for his older sister, Tara, to attend law school in the US. However, two years after settling in California, Tara was involved in a car accident that left her in a coma for a year. She subsequently spent many years in rehabilitation in the US, resulting in a lifelong disability. As a result, Tara never pursued law school, and the family eventually returned to Austria, shifting their focus to meeting Tara’s daily physical needs.

While his family was adapting to a new normal, Moghadam, an American citizen and now 13 years old, experienced the challenges of a language barrier and cultural assimilation. Isolated and excluded by much of Austrian society as a result, he eventually found himself at a crossroads that ultimately forced him out of the education system.

“I had no German language skills at all. The teachers there never gave me a chance to learn German. They failed me from the beginning. After being expelled from three schools in three years, I felt like I had no more options. The adults around me just seemed to give up on me.”

Distressed, Moghadam decided to return to California, without his family, in search of completing his high school education. “I just told my parents I was moving back to California to figure it out.”

With reluctant consent from his parents, Moghadam boarded a plane from Vienna to Los Angeles to live with a distant cousin. He tackled enrolling in high school classes, managing bills, and embracing adult responsibilities. Amid financial instability and unfamiliar duties, he discovered newfound resilience.

“I definitely struggled and made many sacrifices, moving away from my family and living in my friend’s closet for about a year.”

These sacrifices fueled his determination to succeed. After obtaining his GED, his family asked him to move back to Austria. He lived there for three years, and just as the pandemic was in full swing, his grandmother, who lived in Boston, passed away.

When I was having a difficult time, I felt like my grandmother was really the only person who believed in me and expected me to succeed when others were convinced that I’d fail. When she died, I realized life is short and I lost the one person who believed in me. After her funeral, I committed to not disappointing her. I somehow knew that I had to become all the things she saw in me; her ‘vision of me’ is what motivated me.”

Moghadam realized he was no longer a child, and since his sister was no longer able to achieve the academic goals the family had envisioned; he knew that he needed to step up. “To me, it was clear that my role was to take charge and be the son that my family needed me to be,” he said.

Year Up

At his grandmother’s funeral in Boston, he chatted with his cousin, who had just started a new job at Year Up, a nonprofit program in Boston that focuses on providing workforce opportunities for youth development. His cousin suggested that Moghadam apply to the program, and by the end of the year, he was enrolled.

In the Year Up program, Moghadam experienced a year-long workforce development partnership program that combines hands-on skills instruction with classes and corporate internships, a program that matches students with professional mentors and a network of support that includes a stipend during training and internships. He secured a coveted internship at Facebook as an Enterprise Support Technician and he graduated with honors, earning the distinguished role of Graduation Speaker.

Going from “I don’t know if I can do it’ to ‘I can definitely do it!”

While still enrolled in Year Up, Moghadam attended a seminar by the College of Professional Studies’ about the college’s bachelor degrees and subsequently applied to the Bachelor’s Information Technology program. He was accepted, and in 2021, Moghadam joined CPS.

“I just jumped in. I knew next to nothing about computers, but I knew that IT expertise provided a solid foundation for career prospects.”

Moghadam’s CPS advisor, Shannan Lank, quickly realized that Moghadam had no intention of stopping at a bachelor’s degree. Working closely together, they crafted a strategic plan early on to enhance his profile for future law school applications.

Moghadam acknowledges the instrumental role played by Lank. He describes her as “a force of nature, supremely supportive and instrumental to [my] success at the college”.

Recognizing the importance of effective communication in the legal field, and following Lank’s advice, Moghadam committed to taking communication courses alongside his IT curriculum. This strategic decision underscored his dedication to a career that relies heavily on articulate expression.

“When I first met Puya, he was accustomed to people telling him that he couldn’t do something. It was a shock when I told him that I’d walk alongside him the entire way if that’s what it took. I know that sometimes it takes just one person to believe in them to recognize that they can succeed. Once he started on this path, his confidence soared, and there was a clear way forward; nothing was going to stand in his way. In my time working with him, I have seen him transform from someone who doubted himself to someone who believes he can achieve anything. This is a student that in five or ten years, I’m going to be able to say that I not only knew him but had the pleasure of working with him. He is the reason why CPS continues to be one of the largest colleges here at Northeastern, making significant impacts,”

“Northeastern has absolutely helped me. They have been supporting me through this process since day one,” he said.

Beyond academics, Moghadam’s unwavering passion for addressing the opportunity divide, a cause deeply personal to him, propels his vision for a future in law. Inspired by his own experiences and those of his peers, he envisions leveraging his network from Northeastern to drive meaningful change. “I want to utilize Northeastern and my connections to help close the opportunity divide so that we can continue to help others like myself,” he said.

After graduation, Moghadam plans to sit for the LSATs and weigh his options.

“I’ve realized that the world is not just black and white. You don’t have to be this cookie-cutter image of the typical student. Trust me, if you put your head down, you’ll do well. And if you really commit to that practice, the world is your oyster”

Northeastern University Secures Approval for 23-Story Student Housing Tower in Boston

Northeastern University has been given the green light by the Boston Planning and Development Agency for its latest student housing project, set to grace the Boston campus skyline with a striking 23-story tower. Collaborating with American Campus Communities, the university plans to provide accommodation for up to 1,300 students.

This ambitious venture involves partnerships with esteemed architecture firms, Elkus Manfredi Architects and Studio Luz Architects, alongside structural engineering prowess from McNamara Salvia.

In addition to this impressive development, Northeastern University aims to contribute $1 million to Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development, focusing on bolstering housing stability and fostering prosperity in neighboring communities.

Anticipated to cost around $350 million, the high-rise is slated for a grand opening in the fall of 2028, with construction slated to commence next year.

Adhering to LEED Gold standards, the residential complex will feature spacious four-bedroom units with two bathrooms, complemented by approximately 4,000 square feet of retail space. Residents can also look forward to a variety of communal amenities, including a social lounge, fitness center, study area, and laundry facilities, along with 11,000 square feet of shared community space.

Occupying the site of a parking lot owned by Northeastern University since 1997, the building will be conveniently situated within 3 miles of both the university campus and downtown Boston, with the South Bay Center shopping mall just a stone’s throw away.

Managing AI Risks: Reflections on NIST AI Risk Management Framework and Beyond

Distinguished Lecturer Seminar on March 27, 2024 with Jeanna Matthews

Join us Wednesday, March 27 for our next Distinguished Lecturer seminar with Clarkson University Professor of Computer Science, Jeanna Matthews!

In this virtual talk, Jeanna will explore the NIST AI Risk Management Framework (AI RMF) which is a centerpiece of current AI policy in the United States.

She will provide a detailed overview of the framework, how it was developed, its implications, the ways it will be used moving forward, and more.

Register for free to join us online!

YearUp/Roxbury Community College Opportunity Scholarship Recipient, Christian Cartagena

What 3 words encapsulate your Northeastern University experience:
Supportive, Transformative, Stimulating

Getting a degree while life is happening isn’t always easy. What are some of the challenges you’ve had to face at Northeastern and how have you overcome them?

The relentless cycle of working in the early hours, diving into homework late into the night, and reserving weekends for deep dives into my studies created a moment in my life where I was frequently saying “No, I can’t make it. Sorry.” to my family and friends.

Prioritization was the cornerstone of my survival strategy. I had to discern the urgent from the important, constantly recalibrating my focus to align with the goals I have set for myself. I have been in a constant dance, ensuring that no area was neglected while avoiding falling behind on my academic commitments. Being organized has become my compass in this journey so far.

Calendars, planners, and to-do lists were my allies, helping me chart a course through the dense fog of responsibilities. Attention to detail is becoming second nature, as missing a deadline or overlooking a task could jeopardize a lot.

What were some of the reasons you chose to join the Northeastern community? Since joining, what have been some of the opportunities and challenges you have experienced?

I chose to join Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies due to its flexible online classes, allowing me to work in the mornings and manage living expenses in the expensive city of Boston, MA. The flexible scheduling was a key factor for me, as it allowed me to learn part-time or full-time, setting my own pace while still maintaining my daily life. The city is rich with opportunities, and Northeastern stood out as a pathway to acquiring relevant skills and knowledge. Northeastern’s commitment to experiential learning was appealing. The emphasis on real-world applications through case studies, consulting projects, and collaboration with employers aligns with my desire for practical knowledge – learn it and put it into practice! One-on-one interactions with my professors have provided me with additional support, ensuring a more complete understanding of course material. Overall, Northeastern has not only offered me a flexible and supportive learning environment but has also provided avenues for networking and gaining valuable insights from diverse perspectives.

What has your journey at Northeastern University revelated to you about yourself?

My journey at Northeastern University has revealed a lot about myself. I’ve faced numerous emotional challenges, particularly with both of my parents experiencing disabilities from car accidents and work injuries. Despite the stress and sadness that accompanies these circumstances, it has instilled in me a deep sense of determination to overcome adversities and to handle my challenges with pride. My experience at Northeastern has taught me valuable lessons in independence. I’ve learned that effective communication is at the core of navigating through academic and personal challenges.

It’s crucial to ask for help when I’ve needed it, and to trust that people are more than willing to assist, but they may not be aware of what I need or what would be helpful unless I tell them! Overcoming the fear of asking questions when faced with uncertainty has been a significant part of my growth. Being a Northeastern student has been an inspiring journey. Each completed class shows I am not only a step closer to my goal of obtaining a bachelor’s degree but also another achievement added to my collection. This experience has affirmed that I am capable of achieving remarkable things. It’s a testament to the power of determination, effective communication, and the willingness to seek assistance when necessary— qualities that have become integral to my personal and academic growth at Northeastern University.

What advice do you have for others considering higher education — either at Northeastern or elsewhere?

Embarking on the higher education journey, especially at institutions like Northeastern, requires a blend of determination, effective time management, and a proactive approach to challenges. As a student, I’ve faced the intricate dance of balancing work, academics, and personal life. The key to navigating this delicate balance lies in meticulous organization and attention to detail. Creating a structured schedule, breaking down tasks, and keeping clear priorities have been crucial in ensuring I don’t fall behind on coursework while meeting other life demands.

In my experience at Northeastern, the institution’s emphasis on flexibility and experiential learning has been instrumental. The flexible scheduling allowed me to adapt my learning journey to my unique circumstances, making education accessible despite a demanding schedule.

Engaging in real-world projects, networking events, and discussions with professors enhanced my understanding and provided valuable insights beyond the classroom. Moreover, my journey at Northeastern has taught me the significance of effective communication and seeking help when needed. The university community is filled with resources, and the willingness to ask questions and request support has been a vital part of my success. I’ve learned that every completed class represents not only a step closer to a degree but also a tangible achievement, reinforcing my belief in my capabilities. For those considering higher education, my advice is to approach it with resilience, organization, and a willingness to seek guidance.

If you’re a current student, why are you interested in the degree you’re pursuing? What motivates you?

Growing up in a household where finances were a constant struggle, I developed a deep-seated desire for financial stability and success. My insecurities stemming from our economic situation fueled my aspiration to emulate the confident and accomplished businessmen I saw on television.

Choosing to major in finance and accounting was an obvious decision for me. I started my academic journey at a community college, earning my associates in business administration. Subsequently, I participated in a program called Year Up in Boston, where I focused on investment operations. Now, as I pursue my bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting at Northeastern, my motivation remains rooted in my past experiences. My primary goal is to understand money to safeguard not only my own financial future but also those of my family, and friends. The vision of my future self serves as a powerful motivator. I envision a confident, happy individual, unburdened by financial stress and capable of positively impacting others. Each day, I strive to live up to this future self, driven by the prospect of not only securing my own success but also contributing to a world filled with more smiles and opportunities for others.

What are you hoping to do after you graduate? Where do you imagine yourself 5 years after school?

As a current student, my aspirations post-graduation are deeply intertwined with my passion for the finance industry. Currently employed with JPMorgan in trade services, my plan is to continue with the company after completing my education. I am committed to immersing myself in the field, aiming to become an expert before considering any transition to another department or company. In the five years following graduation, I envision a trajectory of continuous growth and achievement within JPMorgan. My goal is to stay dedicated to my role in trade services, progressively taking on more responsibilities and demonstrating a mastery of the material. I am ambitious about climbing the corporate ladder and setting a goal to be promoted every two – three years. Beyond personal career development, I have a vision of contributing to the growth and success of my friends and colleagues. I aspire to take on a mentoring role, sharing my knowledge and experiences to help newcomers navigate the complexities of the finance industry. Empowering others to grow both personally and professionally is a key part of my long-term plan. I see myself remaining deeply engaged in the finance world, leveraging my expertise to make meaningful contributions. As part of my journey, I’m contemplating the idea of starting a side business. This venture would not only add an extra challenge to my professional plate but also provide a platform for applying my financial expertise in new and innovative ways.

We know you are more than the person who shows up at Northeastern — what are some of your hobbies and other passions? Where do you find your joy?

Having transitioned from Lawrence, MA, where the urban landscape lacked the glamour of fancy buildings and city lights, my move to Boston has been a source of immense joy. Exploring the city has become a cherished hobby, whether it’s strolling through Boston Common with my golden doodle, reveling in the vibrancy of city lights during night drives, or discovering new eateries that add to the tapestry of possibilities. I love all of the scenic views, people jogging with their dogs, water views, and overall bustling city life has become a source of huge inspiration. Beyond city escapades, my happiness comes from the simple pleasures of spending time with family, friends, and my four-legged companion. Each moment with loved ones adds depth and meaning to my experiences. And yes, even the act of pressing the submit button for my homework brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is another passion, with regular visits to the gym serving as a way to stretch and rejuvenate after extended hours spent at a desk. Finding balance between academic commitments and personal well-being is essential, and these moments of self-care significantly add to my overall happiness and contentment. Life is good!

Anything else you wanted to say that we didn’t cover?

I want to express my deep gratitude for the incredible support the Year Up/Roxbury Community College Opportunity Scholarship has given me. Joining Northeastern University has truly been a transformative experience, and the impact of this scholarship on my academic journey will be immeasurable.

Christian Cartagena, YearUp/Roxbury Community College Opportunity Scholarship Recipient

The financial support will not only alleviate some of the burdens associated with pursuing higher education but will also open doors to a wealth of opportunities for personal and professional growth. Every day, I am reminded of the countless blessings that have come my way since becoming a part of the Northeastern community. The unwavering support from those around me, including the generous donors behind the Opportunity Scholarship, have been instrumental in my academic success and personal development. As I reflect on this journey, I am filled with gratitude for the individuals who believe in my potential and have contributed to making my educational aspirations a reality. The Opportunity Scholarship is not just a financial aid; it is a symbol of encouragement, empowerment, and the belief that with dedication and support, I can achieve great things. I am truly thankful for the blessings that this scholarship represents and excited about the endless possibilities it opens up for my future.

Mock Interview: Workshop Series

Join our new Workshop series “Mock Interview.”

Every Thursday from 2-3pm EST, we’ll delve into the intricacies of interviews, unveiling effective tricks and preparation strategies for any interview scenario.

Engage in interactive settings as we dissect the overall interview experience, discuss common interview scenarios, and share insights on what to do during critical moments.

We will try to practice Questions to ask after the interview has endedIt would be great if you would bring your resume at the time of the workshop.

Call for Proposals: “AI for All” Week, April 1-5

The What.

The Offices of the Provost and Chancellor are organizing a weeklong series of lectures, interactive sessions, and trainings designed for our undergraduate and graduate students across the network to introduce and enhance their knowledge of AI and its many application areas.

“AI for All” week will begin Monday, April 1st with a plenary session. From Tuesday, April 2nd through Thursday, April 4, we want to provide a rich menu of offerings that students will select from across multiple domain areas during 60-80-minute timeslots. While we anticipate most of these will be in 2 sessions from 6:00-9:00 pm Eastern US time, we also encourage events at campuses in other time zones that may be at more appropriate local times. The week will end Friday, April 5 with a closing event to reflect on the sessions and discuss future activities around AI for the university system.

Call for Proposals

We invite faculty and student groups to submit a short proposal to deliver one of the sessions held during the Tuesday through Thursday evening time slots (or at other times, if appropriate). Proposals should describe experiential sessions that will help our students learn about different aspects and applications of AI, showcase faculty expertise and research directions, and student groups engaged in AI-related activities, particularly emphasizing AI in practice. Session content should be 60-80 minutes and can include multiple formats such as collaborations with industry partners and external experts, panel discussions, and hands-on activities.

We will select proposals for sessions that:

Proposals are due by Friday, Feb. 16th using the proposal link. We will route all submissions to the appropriate academic dean, and if the proposer is located at a regional campus, we will also route them to the respective regional dean for review.

Proposers will be notified by Monday, Feb. 26th whether their proposal has been accepted. For those sessions selected, we’ll work closely with the proposer, the academic dean, and the campus dean to ensure scheduling and modality preferences are coordinated.

Please feel free to contact Becky Collet ([email protected]) if you have any questions.

Our Sleep Deprivation Epidemic

How one researcher is fighting to change our relationship with sleep

It was in 2017 when Kathleen Mackenzie started to notice a marked shift in how children and adolescents were showing up at school.

A senior lecturer at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies and an award-winning clinical social worker and coordinator of clinical and behavioral services in the New Bedford school district, Mackenzie has 33 years of experience working across all age ranges of youth.

While childhood and adolescence have always been complex years of development, there was a tipping point in 2017 where kids seemed to show up more cranky and less resilient to stressors.

But why?

Initially, Mackenzie suspected the fast-paced influx of technology into all spaces might be to blame. As more kids were on screens more hours of the day, it seemed logical that there must be some correlation between the nearly omnipresent digital world and the repercussions of challenging emotional stress in the real world. While this is true, upon further study, Mackenzie found that while technology certainly had a role to play in the breakdown of social, and emotional resilience in youth it wasn’t the root cause. The root cause was much more simple. And much more alarming.

Sleep. (Or lack thereof).

Following extensive research and study, Mackenzie found that 60% of elementary students, 97% of middle school students, and 92% of high school students are sleep-deprived. Even more concerning is that overall, 60% of youth and adults sleep 6 hours or less per night, which meets the criteria for being clinically significantly sleep-deprived.

“Sleep is essential, Sleep is supposed to happen in a certain pattern and when we miss those patterns, we lose our ability to emotionally self-regulate.”

– Kathleen Mackenzie

Advocating for Sleep

A long-time advocate of rebooting our relationship with sleep, Mackenzie’s insights into sleep deprivation amongst youth were initially published in the March 2022 issue of Psychology Today titled: Could Sleep Help End the Youth Mental Health Crisis?

More recently, she took her work into the advocacy space through an award-winning public service ad (PSA) campaign in the New Bedford public access network. That awareness campaign shed light on the impacts of sleep deprivation with tools to help reclaim necessary sleep.

Download the complete slide deck

Mackenzie then used the PSA series, which includes a total of 11 educational videos to conduct a 10-day research study and “Sleep Challenge” with elementary, middle, and high school students in the district. Each participant was required to take an anonymous pre-survey to benchmark their current sleep patterns followed by watching the main 3.5-minute video (linked below): “Sleep On It”.

Over the next 10 days, participants were asked to answer a “question of the day” related to their previous night’s sleep, watch one of the ten science-based videos about various sleep hygiene strategies (approximately 1 minute each), and record their sleep on a Google form. At the end of the survey, participants then took an anonymous post-challenge survey.

The surveys were made available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and K’iche.

And the results were astounding.

The Power of Sleep

Over the course of the Sleep Challenge, as kids of different age groups were given tools to help them improve their quality of sleep, students who were able to adapt these tools and strategies into their sleep cycle demonstrated significant benefits. The students who tried their hardest to change their sleep patterns reported the highest level of benefits. Data from a program for students with social-emotional challenges generated even more impressive results. In fact, within only the first few days of the Sleep Challenge, behavioral outbursts in this program were reduced from multiple times per day to zero.

Much of Mackenzie’s foundational research work cites Mathew Walker’s seminal book, Why We Sleep. A renowned neuroscientist, Walker details the latest scientific findings on sleep and its impact on our mental and physical health as well as our overall well-being and capacity for essential daily functions.

“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good’s night sleep.”

– Mathew Walker

The quality of our sleep depends on two main types of sleep: REM and non-REM sleep. REM sleep is important because it helps us recalibrate and fine-tune the emotional circuits of the brain. This is also where dreams happen. Non-REM sleep allows us to experience a sensory “blackout” providing our brain the capacity to transfer short-term data and experiences into long-term memory.

When we don’t get the recommended amount of quality sleep (7-9 hours for adults, 9-11 hours for school-aged youth), we lose out on one or both of these cycles. This causes harm to our mood, our memory, and our bodily functions.

The lack of sleep doesn’t just affect youth. Despite the need for sleep, 50% of people under 30 sleep six hours or less. And while more sleep is gained as we get older, every age group suffers some form of sleep deprivation. Further, in addition to the day-to-day negative impacts sleep deprivation clearly has on our mood, emotion, and ability to respond to stress, over time prolonged lack of sleep can even lead to cancer, heart disease, as well as issues with immune and reproductive systems. In short, sleep deprivation kills.

“There is absolutely nothing better you can do to improve your health more than improving your sleep quality.”

– Mathew Walker

The tools to correct this epidemic of sleep deprivation are simple, yet difficult to maintain with regularity. These include:

Because many of us have developed deeply entrenched poor sleep habits, these simple fixes are harder to make part of our routine. Consistency, according to Mackenzie, is key to long-term healthy sleep. Even a few days of good sleep has a measurable impact on our ability to function and engage with the world around us and all the uncertainty it presents.

So, while technology may add to our bad sleep habits, distracting us from embracing some of these simple habits, the root cause of so many of our mental and physical health issues can be traced to a simple lack of sleep. And the kids in Mackenzie’s study were keenly aware of the distraction their devices caused. Many of them cited that the #1 way their parents could help them get a good night’s sleep would be to physically remove their devices from their rooms at night. So many parents are unaware of just how sleep-deprived their children are, according to Mackenzie, that they may not know that while it may be hard to enforce, it is ultimately what most kids know they need.

When we consider that sleep deprivation may be the single largest health epidemic of our time, the earlier in life we can learn proper sleeping habits, the better. All the more so this health crisis is seldom discussed on a national scale with the seriousness it deserves. But Mackenzie aims to change that.

“It’s time to take back control of our sleep, it’s time we as a nation put significant effort and resources into fixing our sleep problem. So many lives depend on it.”

– Kathleen Mackenzie

More information about Kathleen Mackenzie is available at Northeastern University’s website and more information about her recently awarded New Bedford Award PSA based on her Sleep Challenge study can be found at WBSM.

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.

Snell Library Tour for CPS Students

Meet CPS Librarian Anaya Jones outside Snell’s temporary entrance on the west side of the building for an up-close and personal tour of the library! Please complete this registration form so we know you’re coming. Thank you!

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.