Research starts for Univ. academic plan

By Kate Augusto

In his first major move since taking office in August, President Joseph Aoun has announced a plan outlining distinctiveness and innovation as his priorities for the university.

“The forces of globalization and accelerated knowledge creation bring great challenges and opportunities for institutions of higher learning,” Aoun wrote in a letter to members of the plan’s various committees. “Our plan should identify a path to those opportunities that hold the greatest promise of establishing Northeastern University as an institution that sets trends instead of following them.”

Mark Putnam, Aoun’s Chief of Staff, co-chairs the Steering Committee for the whole process. Former president Richard Freeland created a plan based more on numbers and statistics, while this plan will be based on concepts, Putnam said.

“We want to look at Northeastern’s future through an academic lens, using broad themes designed to think in bigger ways and integrate them across academic areas,” he said, adding the change isn’t a value judgment, just a difference.

“There is no right and wrong. It’s more about what’s right for the community at this point in time,” he said.

The plan should be finished and ready for approval by the Board of Trustees in early June and implemented by the end of the summer, Putnam said.

The first step of the planning process is research on the university’s future, which will be done by four committees: Urban and Global Dimensions; Experiential Learning Dimensions; Fundamental and Translational Research Dimensions; and Creative, Aesthetic and Ethical Dimensions.

Student and faculty involvement is key to the committees, members said. During the planning process, some committees will hold open meetings. Once committee reports are finalized, students, faculty and alumni can further respond to the reports online.

Kathy Kottaridis, coordinator of the Urban and Global Dimensions Committee, hopes to expand on programs like urban and international student research and internships, Kottaridis said.

She said it is important for students to see themselves in a broader way and stressed “building global competence among our staff, faculty and students so we eliminate a distance between ourselves and other cultures and education systems.”

James Stellar, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the chair of the Experiential Education Committee, said his group will focus on the way experiential education at Northeastern has evolved.

“We are planning to discuss the general definition of experiential education in a university such as ours, which starts with a signature program in Cooperative Education that is almost 100 years old and has strong, but comparatively recent, growth in other forms of experiential education such as study abroad, learning, undergraduate research, internship,” Stellar said in an email.

George Thrush, vice chair of the Creative, Aesthetic and Ethical Dimensions committee, said his committee will address Northeastern’s growing strength in arts and humanities.

“Traditionally the school was more of an engineering type. This acknowledges a lot of where growth has been in the university,” Thrush said.

Kim Lewis, vice chair of the Fundamental and Transitional Research committee, said this committee will focus on research and address national and international research for the university.

“For example [the committee] will focus on interdisciplinary programs and develop undergrad and graduate programs,” Lewis said.

“We’re creating a new vision for our school. We don’t want to follow Harvard. In fact, it could be said that Harvard is trying to follow us [with our strong co-op program],” said MJ Paradiso, the vice president for academic affairs for the Student Government Association.

Paradiso said he would like the committees to focus on more experiential education like service learning, internships and study abroad.

Although it takes many months to complete, Thrush said a long-term process is smart so more people can be included in the decisions.

“A big part of this is looking forward, and thinking about what the next big step forward for Northeastern might be,” he said. “It’s exciting, but it is important to note that it is just getting started.”

-Staff writer Mary Ann Georgantopoulos contributed to this report.

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