‘I Want To Be Able To Change Things at Scale’
In his work as an educator and an advocate for social justice, Dean’s Medal Award Winner Jae Williams harnesses the power of story
According to Jae Williams (EdD, ’22), it was music that taught him how to tell stories—and stories that taught him how to teach. From Marvin Gaye to Jay-Z, the educator, podcaster, and social justice advocate says, the narratives of suffering and hope that emerged in the music he loved got into his bones. Now, he says, the storytelling instincts he first encountered while listening to those songs form the foundation of his pedagogy and his activism.
“Stories are what make us human,” says Williams, who this year was awarded the prestigious Dean’s Medal for Outstanding Doctoral Work. “In my classes, I try to connect any complex concept to a practical story of how people engage. It’s very difficult for us to remember things that are not connected to story.”
Williams has taught digital storytelling at Berklee College of Music and at Emerson College (both in Boston), worked as a video production instructor at institutions including the Cambridge Center for the Arts, and served as a film and creative-writing mentor at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art.
Recently, he began two new projects that combine his passion for storytelling and teaching with his pursuit of equity and inclusion as an advocate for social justice.
In June, he launched a podcast, “Dr. Jae’s Office Hours,” in which he invites experts in diverse fields to discuss their work, an approach that has yielded an eclectic range of topics reflecting the unusual breadth of his own interests and experience. Recent episode titles include “Be UNAFRAID to Ruffle Feathers” with Dr. Sylvia Spears, vice president for administration and innovation and distinguished professor of educational equity and social justice at College Unbound; “How to Balance Professionalism and Authenticity,” featuring advice from author and educator Dr. Marcus Broadhead; and “The Process of a Creative Producer,” with Nerissa Williams Scott, creative producer and CEO of That Child Got Talent Entertainment.
“Dr. Jae’s Office Hours is a podcast highlighting the work and stories of this generation’s creative thinkers, leaders, and dreamers,” Williams says. “And it’s a personal and professional-development podcast for college students of color—because I felt like it’s almost impossible to be what you can’t see. And I’m a product of that. I’m a product of being able to see all the different things that I wanted to explore, but not seeing anybody that looked like me doing them.”
The Creative Café Collective
Williams is also the originator of the Creative Café Collective, a media production company that creates educational content for higher education and students of color. The goal of the Collective, Williams says, is to make higher education a more welcoming space for students of all backgrounds—but especially those who have been traditionally underrepresented.
“The Creative Café Collective is a student retention, belonging, and inclusion program for students of color,” Williams says. “It’s open to all students, but it centers students of color at these predominantly white institutions to give them an opportunity to feel special, and to feel like once they graduate, they have a network of people that actually care and actually want to help them succeed and thrive in their career paths.”
Williams’ own career has reflected the range of his talents, with an emphasis on finding frames and narratives to express individual, community, and institutional stories in compelling ways.
He served as senior communications coordinator at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass., as associate director of content strategy at Emerson College, and as director of special projects at Emerson’s Social Justice Center. He also serves on the boards of multiple nonprofits, and he has won awards that include Emerson’s Young Alumni Achievement Award and three Independent Music Video Director of the Month awards from MTV.
Williams traces his interest in education to a classroom at the Perkins School, where in the summer of 2013 he signed on to help blind students learn to create and direct films. When parents came to see the final presentations, Williams says, watching them and his students shed tears of pride and accomplishment was an indescribable feeling.
“They were literally crying, showing their parents,” Williams says. “And the parents were emotional. And we just had so much fun! That was the first time that I realized teaching is what I love to do. I’ve gone on to teach in a lot of different capacities, but it was in that classroom, teaching those students, with those abilities, the power of storytelling—but more importantly, the power to witness someone discovering themselves, or something new. To me, that is what drives my passion for education. Those students changed my life.”
Stirred by his new-found passion for education, Williams decided that if he wanted to have a significant impact, he would need to deepen his understanding both of his topic and of the world of academia.
“I want to be able to change things at scale,” Williams says. “Not just in a micro-moment in the conference room, or in the break room, or in the hallway, or in the elevator. And the only way I can do this at scale is if I have the language. And so if I can get the language of how [scholars] speak, and blend that with how I speak, then—then—I can make an impact in the way that I believe I was gifted to make.”
Opening doors to those kinds of breakthroughs for others has become an essential part of Williams’ work. His doctoral thesis, America’s Empathy Deficit: Our Bloody Heirloom and the Invisible Backpack, explores the college experience of Black male visual performing-arts students at a pseudonymous institution of higher education in the Northeast. Written as an open letter to his undergraduate alma mater, which he calls Storytelling University, Williams details the obstacles faced by students of color and offers proposals for how to mitigate those challenges.
‘We must face our truths’
In his speech at Northeastern’s 2022 commencement ceremony, Williams drew upon his thesis and his personal experience to instruct and inspire.
“We must face our truths—even our ugly truths—about ourselves and this country,” he told his fellow graduates, urging them to stand up for the disempowered in any way that they could. “If you cannot be the poet, be the poem. If you cannot be on the front lines, then speak up from behind the scenes. If you cannot offer the seat at the table, then ask who is not at the table and why.”
In the video of Williams delivering his speech, there is a moment near the beginning when his voice wavers, and he pauses to compose himself. He blows out a ragged breath, and then he smiles.
“I’m gonna get through this, y’all,” he says. “I’m gonna get through it.”
The palpable emotion of that moment, Williams says, arose from his awareness that the honor he had earned was in fact becoming a reality. Until that moment, he hadn’t really believed it.
“Entering the doctoral program at the College of Professional Studies,” Williams says, “I had a severe case of imposter syndrome. Being a man of color, being a Black man, with body art, hip-hop, all of these things, the world has told me that education is not for me.”
‘Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself’
Support from faculty helped.
“I had amazing professors like [Associate Teaching Professor] Wendy Crocker, and my dissertation supervisor, [Associate Teaching Professor] Lindsay Portnoy, and my third reader, [Associate Teaching Professor] Melissa Parenti,” Williams says. “They just encouraged me and said, you know, be yourself, continue to be yourself, don’t be afraid. Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself.”
But standing at the podium brought to mind some troubling things too, Williams says, about ways the academic establishment had made him feel he didn’t belong.
“When I got up on that stage, and I saw all these people,” Williams says, “it was so overwhelming, because I’m like, you guys don’t even know what it took for me to get to this point.”
Having completed his thesis—and earned the highest honor CPS confers upon a doctoral graduate—Williams is now focused on unifying two essential strands of the passions in his life.
“In terms of storytelling and my education journey, I’m really trying to make them into one cohesive thing,” he says. “When my students see me, and they see me with my shorts, or my Jordans, or my Chuck Taylors and my tattoos and my hat, they’re like, ‘Wow, now I’ve actually seen somebody that looks completely different but is operating at the same exact level.’ So now when they see a bald Black guy with a beard and tattoos, they’re not thinking he’s a threat. They’re not thinking he’s a basketball player only, or he’s some rapper. They’re thinking, ‘I met Dr. Jae, and he taught me something.’”
Northeastern Grad Student Puts Together Art Auction for Ukraine
Daria Koshkina, a Northeastern graduate student working toward her master’s degree in digital media with a concentration in 3D at the College of Professional Studies, curated an online auction, The Art Auction for Ukraine, in collaboration with Boston Cyberarts, Digital Silver Imaging and BarabásiLab at Northeastern.
The auction showcases artwork of Ukrainian artists and will benefit two non-profit organizations that provide humanitarian aid to Ukrainians.
Professor Ted Miller Discusses His Recent Biography of Robert Welch on NPR
Conversation explores the historical seeds of right-wing conspiracy theories
A widely praised book by Teaching Professor Ted Miller garnered further reach recently when the author was interviewed by journalist Anthony Brooks and news analyst Jack Beatty for NPR’s “On Point” (usually hosted by Meghna Chakrabarti). Distributed to over 290 public radio stations across the U.S., the show averages more than two million podcast downloads a month.
In a substantive, engaging conversation of about 45 minutes, Brooks, Beatty, and Miller discuss Miller’s A Conspiratorial Life: Robert Welch, the John Birch Society, and the Revolution of American Conservatism. The book, the first full-scale biography of Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, explores Welch’s penchant for conspiracy and finds links between his activities in the mid-20th century and the recent rhetoric of the Tea Party, the Trump administration, the “Q” movement, and others.
Miller, who grew up in Weymouth, Mass. and has taught at Northeastern for more than a decade, earned praise for his latest book from outlets that include the Times Literary Supplement and The New Republic. In addition to A Conspiratorial Life, Miller is the author of Nut Country: Right Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy. While his first book was well-received, his most recent has drawn increasing national attention, and he has published related op-eds in national media that have included the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
In a recent profile on the CPS website, Miller pointed out one possible reason for increased interest in the roots of conspiracy on the right: “As we got closer to the date of publication,” Miller said, “it just kept getting more relevant. In many ways I wish it wasn’t so relevant. It was kind of a hard book to write, because while I was writing it we were seeing a lot of these same themes—the reluctance to embrace democracy, the conspiracy theories—start to play out.”
Among the subjects Miller discussed in the NPR interview was the historical context that led to the rise of the John Birch Society. Welch, Miller notes, even went so far as to claim Eisenhower had stolen the 1952 Republican nomination.
The conversation ranges widely, encompassing historical analysis and contemporary politics. Bob Dylan, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and William F. Buckley Jr. are among a wide cast of characters who make appearances as Brooks, Beatty, and Miller discuss the ways that scholarly explorations can shed light on modern challenges. In some ways, Miller says, “Robert Welch never went away.”
For the NPR journalists seeking to find political lessons in history, that is exactly the point. As Beatty puts it, “This book represents the search for a usable past.”
Four Students Were Named 2022 RISE Award Winners
Students, faculty, staff across Northeastern University, and industry leaders participated in the university’s annual RISE (Research, Innovation, Scholarship, Entrepreneurship) exhibition on April 14, 2022, a showcase for multidisciplinary student research and creative projects. Student competitors had the opportunity to virtually present their research to industry professionals and potential employers or investors.
This year, four College of Professional Studies graduate students were named RISE Award winners across three categories:
Category: Business and Entrepreneurship
Mary McNamara, Doctor of Education student ’22: Mentoring Others Elevates All: The Benefits of Diverse Mentor-Entrepreneur Dyads
- Mentor: Lindsay Portnoy, Associate Teaching Professor, Doctor of Education program
Corey Ortiz, MS Corporate and Organizational Communication student ’23: Feeling the Crunch: Expectations of Crunch Time in the Video Game Industry
- Mentor: Gladys McKie, Lecturer, MS Corporate and Organizational Communication program
Category: Interdisciplinary Topics, Centers, and Institutes
Asha Kiran Makwana, MPS Analytics student ‘22: KAPI (Keyboardless ASL-inspired Programming Interface)
- Mentor: Beverly Quon
Category: Social Sciences, Humanities, and Law
L’Bertrice Solomon, Doctor of Law and Policy student ‘22: Let Me Live: Corporate Environmental Exceptions, Failed Environmental Protections in Louisiana
- Mentor: J.D. LaRock, Professor of the Practice, Doctor of Law and Policy program
Congratulations to our awardees!
A Passion for History
With a new syllabus in development, a new book set for release, and a deep well of practical knowledge, Professor Edward H. Miller emphasizes excellence, engagement, and experiential learning.
If one were to follow the thread of Professor Edward H. “Ted” Miller’s interest in history all the way back to the beginning, they might find themselves near the southernmost point in the U.S., standing on No Name Bridge in Big Pine Key, staring across Bogie Channel. It was there, Miller says, that in 1960 his grandparents heard the sound of gunfire in the night and wondered, later learning that secret trainings for the Bay of Pigs invasion had been carried out a few miles from their home.
“It was fascinating to me,” says Miller, who vacationed there with his family as a child. “Here in Florida, all these people in retirement, and history’s happening literally in their backyard!”
Miller’s father, Franklin H. Miller, who graduated from Northeastern with a degree in electrical engineering in 1967, passed along that morsel of family lore to the young Miller—along with a love for excavating the ways the past informs the present. Such historical tidbits, Miller says, are what fueled the passion that would eventually lead him to become a professional historian.
“My father was a history buff,” Miller says. “He’d take me on trips to Gettysburg, trips to the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, a trip to Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. I’d get to bring a friend and we’d have these wonderful experiences. I got hooked.”
Miller went on to major in history at Providence College. He later earned his doctorate at Boston College in 2013. His dissertation, “Mavericks of the Metroplex: Dallas Republicans, the Southern Strategy, and the American Right,” became his first book, Nut Country: Right Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy, published in 2015 by the University of Chicago Press. A new book, forthcoming this month from the University of Chicago Press, is titled A Conspiratorial Life: Robert Welch, the John Birch Society, and the Revolution of American Conservatism.
“I wanted to write a biography for the educated general reader,” Miller says of that publication. “And Robert Welch was a crucial figure in the history of American conservatism. If you take a look at what was going on in the 1970s at the John Birch Society, they were very much involved in creating the Reagan Revolution. They were involved in the abortion debates and the tax reform debates and the anti-ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) debates that would promote the Reagan Revolution.”
What Miller couldn’t have guessed when he started writing A Conspiratorial Life in 2014 was that his biography of an American conspiracist would be so timely.
“As we got closer to the date of publication, it just kept getting more relevant,” Miller says. “In many ways I wish it wasn’t so relevant. It was kind of a hard book to write, because while I was writing it we were seeing a lot of these same themes—the reluctance to embrace democracy, the conspiracy theories—start to play out.”
Among other things, Miller says, Welch was a fantasist—and perhaps a fabulist—of the highest order.
“Robert Welch provided a completely different perspective from anything that you would read in a history book,” Miller says. “He didn’t believe there was a Sputnik. He thought the Vietnam war was a phony war run by the Kremlin. He had a belief system that was just contradictory to the reality.”
‘Canards’ of election fraud
As Miller points out in a recent Washington Post column, Welch also aired claims of election fraud. In 1952, he announced that the Republican primary had been stolen from Robert Taft by Dwight D. Eisenhower, a false claim that Miller argues laid the groundwork for similar claims about the 2020 election.
“As we mark the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection,” Miller writes in the column, “it is critical that we recognize that the canards of election fraud have antecedents worth studying.”
Studying historical precedents to get at contemporary truths is also something Miller encourages in his students.
“I think it’s important for academics, especially today, to highlight that what causes history are individual people and individual events acting in time,” Miller says, “not some grand conspiracy controlling everything. And that can be done gently, so that students can see the truth. There are all these conspiracies on the internet now, so in some ways it’s like Sisyphus pushing his rock up a hill, but it’s an important role for education in a society that values truth.”
Now an associate teaching professor and course coordinator at NU Global, Miller joined the College of Professional Studies in 2011. He was drawn to Northeastern’s blend of rigorous scholarship and experiential learning, he says, and he finds satisfaction in both the pursuit of his research and the diverse experiences and backgrounds of his students.
“My definition of happiness is what the ancient Greeks say: the best use of your powers along lines of excellence,” Miller says. “Northeastern embodies that excellence and encourages me to go further with my research. At the same time, I learn so much every semester from our global students. I learn about their cultures, their traditions. It’s fascinating. And when I learn a little bit then I’ll delve a bit more and I’ll perhaps introduce it into the class and dovetail it with the history class, with the American history.”
Mugwumps and suburban warriors
To his writing and teaching, Miller brings not only the perspective of a historian but also that of a former political insider. After earning his bachelor’s degree and before beginning his graduate studies, he worked for eight years as a policy analyst and then research director at the Massachusetts House of Representatives. In those roles, he delved into data and history, working to draft legislation and to brief lawmakers on issues that included health care, social security, and public retirement policy.
It was in the course of that work, Miller says, that his interest in a career in academia first took root. As he researched a bill designed to change civil service laws in Massachusetts, he became fascinated with the legislative history.
“So I took a course at Boston College to explore the origins of the civil service system and why it was established,” he says. “And I came across the mugwumps of the 1880s. They were considered reformers of the time, but they were generally conservatives. I really enjoyed that course.” He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he wrote an article on the topic that was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Later, when he returned to Boston College to get his PhD, Miller resumed his study of 19th-century conservatism and then encountered Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right.
“That was the book where I said, wow, ok, I’m more interested in the 20th century American conservatism and determining the origins of it” Miller says. “I was a child of the Reagan years, so I was just fascinated by that time. And so I started studying the right in the 20th century.”
Engaging with experts
During his years in politics, Miller also built relationships, many of which now inform his classes. Drawing on a wide professional network, he frequently invites politicians and former colleagues to meet with his students. Students love the experiential aspect of the visits and fieldtrips around Boston, he says, and speakers are consistently impressed with the conversations that ensue.
“This semester, I’m teaching a class on leadership in the NUImmerse program,” Miller says. “I’m working on a new syllabus, and we have a plethora of state, local, and even federal officials who are going to come talk. Students will be fully engaged and asking questions of these leaders.”
It is these kinds of interactions, with students and colleagues, that Miller says he treasures most about the community at Northeastern.
“My dad has always said, ‘you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but continue to surround yourself with people smarter than you and you’ll be in a good place,’” Miller says. “And that’s what I try to do at Northeastern. There are so many smart people here. I love the endless supply of interesting conversations. It’s a fantastic place. And my dad walked the halls here. I really consider it my home.”
College honors master’s and doctoral graduates, citing ‘ingenuity and resilience’, with ceremonies that emphasize service, perseverance and experiential learning.
The words of Brent Musson, (Doctor of Law and Policy ’20), captured the mood at the Doctoral Hooding and Graduation Ceremony of the College of Professional Studies in Matthews Arena Sept. 9—and at the Master’s Graduation Ceremony in the same location the following day: “Humanity at its best,” the 2020 Dean’s Medal recipient said in his remarks to the successful doctoral candidates, “is humanity in gratitude.”
Gratitude was in abundance both days as faculty, administrators, students and their families—as well as friends of the College worldwide via livestream—celebrated the graduates’ achievements in the face of extraordinary challenges. Speakers at the ceremonies praised the degree recipients for their perseverance in scholarship despite a global pandemic, their passionate commitment to learning and their determination to address real-world problems in their project-based learning and research.
‘Both humility and pride’
In his opening remarks on Sept. 9, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David Madigan, Ph.D., welcomed the College of Professional Studies (CPS) community, expressed his faith in the graduates’ future success and his pride in their accomplishments and celebrated their membership in Northeastern’s “powerful knowledge network” dedicated to the dream of a more just and equitable society. He was followed at the podium by Interim Dean of CPS Dr. David Fields, who noted the unusual degree to which CPS students break down the barriers between work and learning.
“Our doctoral students are already fulltime professionals and leaders in their fields,” Dr. Fields observed. “In true Northeastern fashion, they are researching what they live, and living what they research, every day.”
Dr. Fields went on to explain the significance of the hooding ceremony—so-called because doctoral students traditionally have the hoods of their academic regalia lifted over their heads by faculty.
“The symbolism of the hooding ceremony at our doctoral commencement honors both the doctoral candidate’s work and the network of relationships that make that work possible,” Fields said. “[It] embodies both humility and pride, on both sides of the relationship, as faculty members welcome a new peer into their community.”
Faculty speaker Dr. Mounira Morris (B.S. ’91, M.S. ’95), assistant teaching professor and the co-lead for the Master of Education in Higher Education Administration program, offered her congratulations to the graduates and acknowledged the special challenges that had arisen during their studies, including the pandemic and the persistence of racial injustice. She quoted James Baldwin, noting his achievements as a playwright, novelist and civil rights activist: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
“To me,” Dr. Morris said, “this means that at times we will collectively endure hardship; however, we can use these experiences, especially as doctors, to offer wisdom, hope, and a better path forward.”
A longtime leader in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)—and currently working with colleagues at Northeastern to develop a new academic credential in DEI—Dr. Morris emphasized the power for good inherent in the attainment of an advanced degree, encouraging the graduates to find creative solutions to the challenges in their professions, communities and personal lives.
“We, as faculty,” she said, “ask that you take your research, and go out and change your world, your profession, your workplace and make it just a little bit better than before. We, as faculty, believe you can persevere and persist. We know you can.”
Dr. Musson, whose acceptance of the 2020 Dean’s Medal had been previously postponed due to Covid-19 precautions, suggested in his remarks that the attitude of an academic researcher is “not that of an author or maker, but rather that of an explorer.” He praised the selflessness and commitment of his peers and made a critical distinction between an undergraduate education—which, he said, “teaches a student how to learn”—and a graduate education, in which students learn “to use tools … to solve other people’s problems” and to create value, going “from inward-facing to outward-facing.”
He noted that, soon after a doctoral candidate’s academic journey begins, “we become acutely aware of what we’re signing up for; to spend the next few years engaged in the most rigorous intellectual exercise of our lives, to extract a single, pure, tiny drop of insight to ever-so-slightly raise the sea level of the ocean of human knowledge.”
And he described a moment of inspiration in what he termed a spiritual awakening: a street soccer game he had observed in West Africa more than a decade earlier, where, when a beautiful goal was scored, both teams celebrated. Drawing a parallel between the players’ selfless joy and the academic community he had found at Northeastern, Dr. Musson said, “These happy boys had purpose; and that purpose made them work together, against all odds to orchestrate a moment of greatness—a moment of pure, unselfish greatness.
“I’ve never circled a soccer field making wings with my arms,” he continued, “but research has made me part of our team, and this humbling honor is our winning goal.”
As Dr. Musson finished his speech, the audience rose to deliver a sustained standing ovation.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Dr. Madigan returned to the stage to offer closing remarks, praising the successful doctoral candidates for their “drive, dedication and sense of purpose.”
“The world is ever changing,” he said, “but you are prepared to meet—and conquer—its challenges.”
‘A day full of promise’
The following afternoon, Dr. Madigan returned to welcome master’s graduates to the arena on “a day full of promise.” He praised their “clear-eyed determination, discipline and hard work,” and offered special recognition to the faculty who, he said, by guiding the graduates to success, “have strengthened a legacy of knowledge and helped shape the future in scores of fields of professional endeavor.”
Following Dr. Madigan’s remarks, Dr. Fields spoke, celebrating the graduates’ global engagement and their cultivation of “the cultural competencies needed for a lifetime of contribution in a fast-paced, diverse, global society.” He went on to emphasize the benefits of their embrace of experiential learning, noting that in so doing, they had “addressed pressing, real-world problems” and become “well-prepared to lead from experience in the workplace.”
Dr. Fiona Creed, associate teaching professor and faculty director of the Global Studies and International Relations program, next introduced student speaker Ebony Small, ’21.
Reflecting on a year of adversity, Small observed “the pandemic itself could neither make nor break us” and asked graduates to consider the ways in which the challenges of the past 18 months had taught them to know their own courage, ambition, and steadfastness.
“We did not make it to this moment merely because we just-so-happened to survive a global pandemic,” Small said. “No, we made it here because we made the choice to value education and then fiercely pursued it. My dear friends and colleagues, despite the unexpected challenges of this year, we thrived. We grew. We changed.”
“This,” she concluded, “is what it looks like to turn a choice into a change. This is what it looks like to champion growth. Congratulations.”
From humble roots to world-renowned
Following an introduction by Dr. Earlene Avalon, associate professor and lead faculty for Health Administration and Health Sciences, graduation speaker Carl H. Whittaker, a philanthropist whose life path has spanned business, engineering and music, addressed the community.
A director of the Herb and Maxine Jacobs Foundation—which supports the College’s “A2M” or “Associates to Masters” program, offering an accelerated pathway from a community college associate’s degree to a bachelor’s at the College of Professional Studies and a master’s degree in Biotechnology at Northeastern’s College of Science—Whittaker began by invoking Northeastern’s origins as a vocational school offering evening classes, run by the YMCA.
“We all know that Northeastern is now a world-renowned university, highly ranked in many fields,” Whittaker said. “But inside this world-class institution is still the legacy of that 1898 night school.”
Whittaker linked this history with Northeastern’s emphasis on internship experiences, co-ops, and other programs that connect students to “great employers and great jobs.” He applauded the graduates for their effort and creativity in juggling jobs, families, and studies, urged them to embrace the role of mentor for other aspiring scholars, and invited them to fight income inequality—as his foundation does in part by supporting scholarships at Northeastern.
“I am inviting each of you to join my fight against economic inequality by encouraging at least one or two others to join you in earning an advanced degree,” Whittaker said. “Just be ready when you see a family member or neighbor who would value your guidance. Your friendly support might be thing that leads someone to a more prosperous and fulfilling life.”
The Doctoral Hooding and Master’s Ceremony were livestreamed from Matthews Arena. Click the links below to view recordings of the ceremonies.
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The Pandemic Made the CPS Class of 2021 Double Down and Remain Focused
The pandemic was remembered at the College of Professional Studies’ master’s degree graduation ceremony on Friday as a unifying force that bred a kind of resilience and flexibility that allowed students to bend, but not break, under the pressure of a global health crisis.
“I Know He Would be So Proud” – Scholarship Donors Connect with Students
Written by Stephanie Krzyzewski
“Always, always be grateful to those who helped you.” These are the closing words of Marisa Lemus-Reynoso (Biotechnology, Class of 2023) as she addressed a crowded Raytheon Amphitheater at the annual College of Professional Studies undergraduate scholarship reception on the evening of August 19, 2021 on Northeastern’s Boston campus.
Marissa has good reason to be thankful, as do the dozens of other students in the room. A few weeks ago, they received the news that they would be receiving additional financial aid for the 2021-2022 academic year thanks to philanthropic contributions made by alumni and friends of Northeastern.
The College of Professional Studies has more than 50 scholarship funds established and supported through philanthropy throughout the past 40 years. For the upcoming academic year, this translates to approximately $400,000 in scholarship funding being awarded to more than 200 undergraduate students. Each summer the College hosts an event on campus to celebrate scholarship recipients and recognize their generous benefactors.
Marissa Lemus-Reynoso is receiving two scholarship this year – the Charles E. and Gail A. Evirs, Jr. Scholarship and the David R. Johnson Memorial Scholarship – and her benefactors were in the room on August 19 to hear her personal story and support her academic journey.
Nancy Johnson, who spoke just before Marissa, established the David R. Johnson Memorial Scholarship in memory of her late husband in 2019 along with her sister and brother-in-law, Joan and Pete Johnson. Dave, who earned his business degree from Northeastern in 1976, passed away in June 2018, and establishing the scholarship was a way for his family to find solace in his loss.
It was a special moment when Nancy introduced Marissa and invited her to take the stage, giving her an elbow-bump by way of welcome. Nancy had just finished sharing the story of Dave’s academic and professional journey, and you could hear her voice crack with emotion as she said, “Receiving this scholarship means Marissa’s life will forever be connected to Dave’s legacy, and I know he would be so proud of her if he’d had the chance to meet her.”
That sentiment is a tidy way to describe the purpose of this annual event – celebrating the impact of scholarships and the ability they have to transform lives and to foster lifelong connections among the Northeastern community.
College of Professional Studies Undergraduate Scholarship Program
Learn more about undergraduate scholarships at the College of Professional Studies and view photos and video from the 2021 annual reception event.
If you have any questions about the undergraduate scholarship program at the College of Professional Studies, please contact Stephanie Krzyzewski, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Funds, at [email protected].
Wide-Ranging Research Wins Recognition at RISE Awards
Six CPS students were honored at the 2021 RISE Awards, which recognize members of the Northeastern community universitywide for exceptional work in research, innovation, scholarship and entrepreneurship.
Victor Aimi (MS ’21, Corporate & Organizational Communication), Emily Bauer (EdD ’21, Higher Education Administration), Rhea (MPS ’21, Analytics), Joel Livingston (EdD ’21, Education), and Shreshthi Mehta (MS ’21, Leadership) won Focus Awards, while Kelsey Kaul (EdD ’22, Education) received a Category Award in Social Sciences, Business, and Law.
“The RISE Award means that others believe in the work I have done,” Livingston said. “I have always been someone who is self-motivated, but knowing that others see the significance of my research inspires me.”
Livingston was honored with the Graduate Innovator Award for “Restorative Justice Challenges and Culturally Responsive Classrooms to Improve Engagement.”
“Culturally responsive teachers create classroom environments that utilize symbolic curriculum to highlight beliefs and values related to cultural diversity and ensure that the images portrayed reflect positive aspects of multiculturalism,” Livingston said, describing his research. “Even more, culturally responsive classrooms can assist in keeping students of color engaged in class, which in return can influence positive behavior. In addition to culturally responsive classrooms, the implementation of restorative justice practices is recommended to maintain positive behavior. In many schools across the United States, restorative justice practices have been used as an alternative to suspensions, expulsions, and other exclusionary disciplinary practices. This inequality can prevent students of color from succeeding throughout their educational trajectory, leading them to misbehave more in school and the school-to-prison pipeline, which will ultimately prevent them from being successful and unlocking their full potential.”
The study for which he was recognized, he said, was designed “to ensure that restorative justice is more than just a buzzword in education.”
Diversity in Tech
In her project, “Reforming the Referral Process: Increasing Diversity for Tech Startups,” Kaul sought to address equity in the workplace.
“My research is rooted in understanding how to improve the diversity of technology teams at startups,” Kaul said. “This work is important because the technology sector impacts each of us, every day. Although the tech sector creates products for everyone, the teams that do this work are often not representative of the users they serve. The tech sector needs to increase its diversity to create better products.”
Kaul examined ways in which such companies can improve their diversity, focusing on how to ensure that referrals can diversify the pool of job candidates.
“This work is especially important to me because of my focus on ensuring the success of women and minorities in STEM,” she said. “At Northeastern I work with master’s in engineering students who are the future of the technology sector. My program is over 50% female, which is unique in this sector. In my role, I help these students prepare for their future careers in tech, but I often ask myself, where are they headed? Is the industry ready to support them? That is what led me towards this research.”
Supporting the success of women is at the heart of the work of Shreshthi Mehta. In “Exploring the Challenges of Employing Women as Porters in Cusco, Peru,”Mehta studied the cultural and demographic barriers preventing women from working as porters on the popular tourist trek to the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. Her research revealed how measures to ease women’s access to such coveted jobs have proved profitable.
“Women of many cultures face several stereotypes, where they are prohibited from pursuing certain jobs or careers,” Mehta said. “The story of women porters in Cusco and their pursuit to work in a severely male dominated profession is revolutionary. It showcases the DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] initiatives of the owners of Evolution Treks in how diversity has proven to be beneficial to the tour company, in spite of the higher operational costs of employing women porters.”
Victor Aimi’s identity as an immigrant, he said, informed “Cultural Challenges of International Websites,” in which the native Argentine “set out to study why websites sometimes seem to have a mind of their own when accessed overseas.” In the course of his work, Aimi found that web technology is just one dimension in the more complex problem of making the web work well across borders.
“This is fascinating to me,” Aimi said, “because websites are a central part of any communications effort with international audiences, yet I did not often think of the cultural dimensions enabled by the web before this project. My habit was to just to rely on the technology.”
Receiving a RISE Award, Aimi said, illuminated his own identity in a way he hadn’t expected.
“As an immigrant I often experience cultural differences as a burden,” he said. “The award made me realize that cultural awareness can also be an advantage. I’m truly grateful to Professor Patty Goodman for helping me figure that out.”
Rhea — who, like Aimi, is an international student—rooted her research in resource optimization, using her project, “Predicting Memory Utilization on High Performance Computing Cluster,” as an opportunity to help hone the efficiency of Northeastern’s research computer network.
“Northeastern made it easy for me to settle down in the culture,” the Analytics graduate said of emigrating to Boston from her native India. “At the very beginning of my experience, I was offered a part-time job at Northeastern, in Research Computing. I felt ecstatic and I couldn’t wait to apply all the knowledge into practice as I learned. I had a chance to learn from the best professors at CPS. This project was my chance to use my knowledge to create something for my university.”
By analyzing the way Northeastern’s high-performance computing cluster utilized memory, she developed a data analytics framework and a machine learning model that makes the cluster more efficient—and more easily accessible to researchers.
“I was lucky to have had this opportunity to learn from the best of my team here in the Research Computing department at Northeastern, and I can’t thank them enough for their constant support and motivation,” she said. “This experience has created a platform for me to move forward, and it has set a path for me to reach my career goals.”
Mental Health Literacy
Emily Bauer’s dissertation, “Mental Health Literacy in Student Affairs Graduate Preparation Programs,” focused on training non-clinical college and university student-affairs staff in identifying and intervening in emerging mental health issues for students. Citing increasing student mental-health concerns—and observing that they are now coupled with the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic—Bauer described her study as a pilot education program aimed at graduate students in student affairs master’s programs “to enhance skills and confidence in the area of mental health literacy.”
Like many of her colleagues, Bauer’s research was inspired by direct experience in which she discerned a broader challenge.
“I chose the framework of mental health literacy based on my perspective as a mental health first aid instructor,” she said, “which has shown me that anyone can support and help others experiencing mental health concerns. I would like to empower those in my field to do this and take action to support students on college campuses.”
Livingston noted that his work, too, was rooted in personal experience.
“Restorative justice in schools is important to me because as a student in New York City public schools, I had several teachers who misinterpreted my lack of focus as defiance,” he said. “As a teacher/school administrator, I see many students experiencing the same issues I had. I am now in a position where I can change this narrative, and that is what I intend to do.”
Celebrating our Newest Graduates– Virtually
The college celebrated the achievements of undergraduate and master’s graduates in a virtual recognition ceremony on May 15. Watch highlights from the ceremony below, and click here to watch the full ceremony, which includes candidates’ personalized messages and photos as well as messages from faculty members. Congratulations to our newest graduates!
Mary Loeffelholz, Dean of the College of Professional Studies, welcomes students, families and friends to the virtual recognition ceremony.
David Fields, Senior Associate Dean, Academic and Faculty Affairs and Professional Programs, introduces this year’s student speakers.
Anh (Ann) Doan and Tien (Tiffany) Nguyen, this year’s student speakers, discuss their career goals and how the college has helped them on their journey to create a start-up that supports women’s development.
Dave Hagen, Associate Teaching Professor, announces this year’s Excellence in Teaching award winners: Dr. Margaret Gorman and Dr. Wendy Crocker.
Dean Loeffelholz introduces the recognition ceremony speaker. Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Robert DeLeo, AS’72, gives his address to graduates.
Dean Loeffelholz introduces the ceremony’s alumni speaker. Clifford Harrison, CPS’15, addresses graduates as this year’s alumni speaker.