Standout graduate leads Northeastern program on addressing urban issues

A diversity of knowledge and culture pieced together from intentionally varied co-op and internship experiences as an undergraduate at Northeastern have prepared Michael Lake for his role as the executive director of the World Class Cities Partnership (WCCP), a new project of Northeastern’s School of Social Science, Urban Affairs and Public Policy aimed toward building relationships with corporate, government and university partners around the world.

Twelve years ago, he landed at the Federal Reserve as its youngest ever bank examiner. He roomed in hotels and traveled to various New England banks rating their loan portfolios with co-workers who he came to think of as family.

He landed at an Australian airport with two suitcases and merely a verbal promise of a job at a software firm in Sydney. He quickly became its director of finance.

“Things tend to work out,” Lake says. “When traveling, all you need is a passport, a credit card and a plane ticket, and you can survive anywhere.”

He landed in Dublin, Ireland, as a policy research analyst for former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton. He explored much of Europe.

He landed in the halls of the White House as special assistant for White House Operations with direct access to a $54 million budget and as one of only four individuals reappointed by President Bush after the Clinton administration.

And he stands as the only student in Northeastern history to graduate as a quintuple major.

The breadth and prestige of his co-op experiences, however, rival and perhaps surpass his academic achievements, which encompass degrees in political science, management information systems, finance and insurance, communications and entrepreneurship.

“The practical, experiential learning side of the Northeastern curriculum introduced me to the real world,” the 2002 graduate says. “Having that foundation to build on has made later successes possible. To succeed, you need to work hard, maintain a positive attitude and build genuine relationships – all skills I learned at Northeastern.”

He uses other skills he developed at Northeastern, such as teamwork and time management, in his day-to-day duties as a leader of the WCCP. The program will convene an international group of municipal officials and practitioners, university faculty and students and policy innovators from several worldwide metropolitan areas to identify shared urban issues such as affordable housing, the environment and education and utilize research data, statistical analysis and social indicators to drive policy development and create social change.

“The WCCP will not only strengthen the relationship between business, government and higher education throughout the world, but it will also present the opportunity for cities to share what they have experienced and learn from each other,” Lake says.

He hopes to gather eight to 10 cities to participate in the program before its initial conference (planned for later this year) on determining which urban issues members of the partnership will study. In addition to Boston, prospective cities include Melbourne, Australia; Kyoto, Japan; Hangzhou, China; Cape Town, South Africa; Alexandria, Egypt; Haifa, Israel; Barcelona, Spain; Frankfurt, Germany; Dublin, Ireland; Vancouver, Canada and an as of yet to be determined city in Latin America.

Lake recently traveled to Ireland to discuss the WCCP with officials from the Dublin City Council and Dublin City University. And members of the partnership, he says, have already presented the program to those in the Dublin Creative Alliance, a group of universities and colleges assembled by the Dublin City Council.

“As relationships continue to be built and the need presents itself, there will be more face-to-face communication,” Lake says. “Even in a high-tech world it is still invaluable for building new relationships.”

After initial research on a particular issue, members of the WCCP will develop a “task force to further study the best practices and develop policies appropriate for measuring and ultimately implementing policies which might require legislation,” Lake says, noting that each city will, of course, tailor policies toward its own needs.

Lake considers Northeastern – particularly its Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy – the catalyst for such progress.

“The strongest relationship Northeastern has is with the city of Boston,” he says. “As a university and as a city, the benefits from that partnership have been identified and experienced in many ways.

“The Dukakis Center has historically proven itself as a ‘think and do’ tank; not only is it capable of research, but it works on follow-up implementation, is results oriented and passionate about the work it does. We will take that passion, record of results and models used to achieve it, to cities and universities around the world.”