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3Qs: Engaging students, on campus and abroad

Northeastern University recently appointed Dr. Laura A. Wankel as vice president for student affairs. Prior to joining Northeastern, Wankel served as the chief student affairs officer for Seton Hall University, where she oversaw a variety of services and programs. She was recently elected to be the Regional Vice President for Region II of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and she currently serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice.

What attracted you to Northeastern?

The innovative and strategic vision of the institution is both bold and exciting. There is a special energy and commitment from students, faculty and staff who are truly engaged with making Northeastern a fertile place for fostering creativity and developing new ideas. I am particularly excited about Northeastern’s global expansion through its international co-op program.

The students are diverse, confident and ambitious. I have always been a fan of American philosopher John Dewey, whose methods have resonated with my philosophy that we all learn by doing. Northeastern’s co-op model, which enables students to connect theory with practice in the real world, is a perfect example of the kind of educational philosophy that moves us forward.

How difficult is it to create a unified campus community when students spend so much time off campus on co-op?

Our goal is to make sure that each and every student is engaged with the broader community both on and off campus. I think we have an enormous opportunity to leverage technology in creative ways that would enable students to participate in activities on campus regardless of their physical location. For example, we will leverage social media to facilitate connections between the university and both students who are studying in Boston and those who are working on co-op or studying abroad on the other side of the world.

You have more than 30 years of experience in higher education. What do you love about your field?

Neither of my parents had the opportunity to complete high school, but my experience as a student in the 1970s made me realize how much of an impact higher education could have on transforming the quality of my life. Since then, I have always felt like the pathway to a more fulfilling life was through education, and I think my passion for the field stems from recognizing its value and wanting to help people find their unique path.