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Experiential learning, seven cities at a time

In March, Francisco Torres, MS’12, conducted research at the Carmel Academic Center in Haifa, Israel, to find out whether the university is succeeding in helping the city attract — and retain — top young talent.

He gathered data by interviewing the campus project manager, a city statistician and the director of a young adult center that helps students find jobs.

“The issue is that there is a large population of young adults leaving Haifa and going to other cities in Israel in much the same way that many college students leave Boston after graduation,” Torres explained.

The experiential-learning opportunity was part of a two-semester graduate-level capstone course in urban and regional policy. Each student in the class was tasked with determining whether specific initiatives in particular cities throughout the world were succeeding in promoting talent retention and job creation by reviewing policies, analyzing literature and conducting interviews with stakeholders in each location.

At the end of the semester, each student wrote — and presented — a case study on his or her respective city.

Each of the selected cities — Barcelona, Spain; Dublin, Ire­land; Guadala­jara, Mexico; Haifa; Hangzhou, China; Lisbon, Por­tugal; and Vancouver, Canada — is part of the World Class Cities Partnership, an ini­tia­tive of Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. The goal of the pro­gram is to estab­lish pro­duc­tive part­ner­ships between uni­ver­si­ties and gov­ern­ment agen­cies in met­ro­pol­itan areas world­wide to iden­tify and address mutu­ally impor­tant urban issues.

Michael Lake, exec­u­tive director of the WCCP, designed the capstone course. An interdisciplinary cast of faculty members —comprising Michael Dukakis, dis­tin­guished pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence, Daniel Spiess, a lecturer in the policy school and the partnership’s research director, and Raymond Kinnunen, associate professor of international business and strategy — co-taught the class.

Torres, a finalist for a two-year paid fellowship with the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, commended the course for its focus on applying concepts learned in class to the real world.

“It’s one thing to read about something in a textbook, but when you’re actually learning about it on the ground, it changes your perspective,” said Torres, who has traveled throughout the world as a classically trained ballet dancer. “The most amazing part of the capstone was getting to speak to all the people I had heard so much about.”

Lake praised the course for aligning with Northeastern’s commitment to research, urban engagement and experiential learning. “It takes experiential learning to the Nth   degree,” he explained. “It combines everything that Northeastern stands for.”

Kinnunen, who guided the students through writing their case studies, agreed with Lake’s assessment and discussed a plan to share the case studies with delegates from the program’s partner cities at a summit later this year. “I don’t know of any other school in the country that does this,” he said. “The students have made a tremendous contribution to the literature on each of these cities and on urban and regional policy.”