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

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.

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.

How CPS Helped Raissa Talehata Turn a Concern About Food Waste into a Full-Time Career as a UX Climate Designer

Raissa Talehata, who just graduated from CPS with a Master of Professional Studies in Digital Media in 2022, remembers giving a presentation to her classmates in Australia during her junior year of high school about food waste in Solo, Java, Indonesia. She did not know then how researching food waste problems would become a permanent fixture in her own life. The damaging 2015 wildfires in Australia and her shock and dismay at the huge portions served at Boston restaurants were things that deeply motivated her interest in food waste. These experiences, coupled with her education, eventually led her to develop an app prototype that enabled consumers to manage their food inventory and reduce waste.

Raissa initially attended the University of Melbourne, Australia, for a bachelor of commerce degree in accounting and finance. She then received her first master’s degree at the Hult International School of Business in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Raissa Talehata

“I chose Northeastern University because of its great reputation in preparing students to face and tackle the real-world issues; it is not just knowledge, but the informed application of this knowledge to real-world situations.”

Intersectionality of Business, Communications, Design, and Global Social Issues

For today’s consumers, Raissa realized she needed to expand her skill set beyond business and finance and focus on emerging technologies, user experiences, and interactive design. She found what she needed in the College of Professional Studies graduate digital media program. She said that, “My faculty mentors Cynthia Barron, Tania Schlatter, Carl Zangerl, and Edward Powers, made huge impacts.”

In 2020, Raissa was planning on doing a co-op in the summer, however, that experiential learning experience had to be postponed because of the pandemic. Instead, she learned of other experiential learning opportunities: one being the creation of a virtual public relations (PR) agency called Husky Communications overseen by faculty member Ed Powers. That summer, Raissa and other students developed a digital product and website for the virtual PR firm. Their work included interviewing stakeholders, developing a brand, conducting user research, creating digital content, and designing solutions. She also worked on website designs for Inspire & Influence, a blog for Northeastern’s communication, digital media, and human resources professionals; and for NU Media, an innovative platform to showcase student stories, innovations, discoveries, and achievements with internal and external audiences.

Benefits of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning gave Raissa immediate work skills and the confidence to define and identify business problems, develop creative solutions, and solve complex challenges. These projects helped her land her current job as a UX Designer at a local design firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Being a part of the Husky team was a stepping stone for me, as it not only sharpened my technical skills but also developed my soft-skills that could be easily transferable to all different types of businesses – it gave me the competitive edge,” said Raissa.

She also won two awards during her graduate studies: the Northeastern Outstanding Graduate Student Award in Experiential Learning and the CPS Experiential Learning XN Excellence Award.

Raissa has many titles in her current work. She is a web developer, a user experience (UX) designer, and a climate designer, the last is defined as a person who devotes her creative talents to working on the climate crisis.

“My goal is to raise awareness about how seriously we need to take actions as individuals, as well as collectively to deal with global warming. That also means that I am dedicating the next few years of my career to be a UX Designer for organizations that support climate actions.”

Raissa Talehata

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