Mary Loeffelholz appointed CPS dean, VP of Professional Advancement Network

Mary Loeffelholz was appointed dean of the College of Professional Studies, and vice president of the Professional Advancement Network. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Mary Loeffelholz was appointed dean of the College of Professional Studies and vice president of the Professional Advancement Network—two roles with which she’s familiar. She has served as interim dean of CPS since May 2016 and played an integral role in the development of the Professional Advancement Network, which launched in October.

Loeffelholz has been a member of Northeastern’s faculty since 1988 and has held a number of key academic leadership roles in that time—including eight years as vice provost for academic affairs.

An English professor and distinguished scholar of American literature who spent a few semesters of her undergraduate career on an engineering track before switching to English, Loeffelholz will continue to bring a unique perspective to the College of Professional Studies. “The great themes of 19th-century literature,” she said, “are alive and well today in the College of Professional Studies and Northeastern’s new Professional Advancement Network.”

We asked Loeffelholz about her vision for the College of Professional Studies and the Professional Advancement Network.

In the world of politics and presidential administrations, folks often talk about “the first 100 days.” What do you have planned for your first 100 days as dean?

Above all, unleashing the creativity of our faculty, learning designers, and industry partners to work in collaboration and at the speed of the professional learning marketplace.

Although the College of Professional Studies isn’t divided into traditional academic departments, we’ve often approached the demands of building large-scale professional programs one program at a time. Looking forward, we’ve already begun to organize communities of faculty members and learning designers on a bigger scale, into what we’re calling “domains” of professional practice and industrial need. Within a domain—communications and media, to take one early example, or analytics, for another—faculty and designers are working together to map fundamental skills and knowledge that make up this area of practice, from the beginner level to advanced competencies. They’re identifying gaps and redundancies in our offerings and preparing to develop new online learning content modules and experiences that we will be able to adapt for use across many programs, in many contexts. The communications domain will gift not only CPS but also the university as a whole with this library of shared online content and learning experiences, ready to be customized to new opportunities.

Beyond the first 100 days, what is your long-term vision for the College of Professional Studies and professional education at Northeastern?

In line with Northeastern 2025, I want learners and employers around the world to think of Northeastern first when they think of education that is available anywhere, anytime, with offerings that speak to career beginners and changers as well as to seasoned experts. All of Northeastern’s colleges—not only CPS—have made major commitments to lifelong professional education. In Northeastern 2025, learners should be able to navigate their way seamlessly from program to program, whatever the offering college, on the basis of their prior experience and their own personal and professional goals. On the other side of the equation, employers should also have the seamless access they seek to our talented students and alumni across all of our programs.

Our professional programs in 2025 will draw deeply on our network of regional campuses, to the benefit of all our students and faculty, wherever they individually may choose to work or study. For example, the College of Professional Studies has a sizable master’s program in sports leadership, now with a new track in the Ed.D. program, and we also house the Center for the Study of Sport and Society, dedicated to harnessing the power of sport as a catalyst for social justice. Someday soon, I’d like us to have a residency weekend for our sports and education programs featuring simultaneous live and virtual learning experiences in Boston, Charlotte, Toronto, Seattle, and the Bay Area—all of our campuses are located in great sports markets, where athletes and teams are testing the role of sports in social change. What can our community learn from these different regional experiences? How can our students in these fields accelerate their careers by networking their learning?

Or, imagine lighting up the network with our cross-college suite of professional programs in security, resilience, and critical infrastructure technologies: offering simultaneous and sequential audits of port security in Boston and Seattle, combined with table-top exercises in Boston and Toronto on managing emergencies in the electric grid that links Canada to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

This is how Northeastern will become the network for experiential professional learning, powered by place and supported by ceaseless innovation in online learning.

You’re an English professor and an author, so what is it about post-traditional education that sparked your interest and fuels your passion to thrive in this new capacity? What aspects of your background will you bring to bear in this role?

I was an undergraduate engineering major at Stanford University for a few quarters before I transferred into English. Maybe that experience still lies somewhere in my academic and professional DNA. I’ve always been drawn to hybrid jobs, or “humanics” jobs as we’re starting to call them in light of Northeastern 2025—work that pulls together “soft” and “hard” skills from different realms to get compelling things done. One of my CPS colleagues, a data analyst who also has a background in literature, recently told me that she was inspired by having a dean who embodied Northeastern’s emphasis on the power of transferrable skills and lifelong learning.

The truth is, we all need transferrable skills and lifelong learning. In the U.S. and around the world, few social challenges are more urgent than meeting the need for post-traditional, professionally meaningful education. It’s an economic imperative that also has tremendous human needs for belonging, connection, and dignity wrapped up in it. In the words of the great 19th century novelist George Eliot, work is one of the most “dignified and arduous forms of our dependence” on other human beings. As a scholar of 19th-century Anglo-American literature, I’ve always been drawn to poetry and fiction that centers on the heroism and aesthetic power of ordinary life and on the human drama of finding one’s way into meaningful work. The great themes of 19th-century literature—the network of humankind; the dignity of work; the democratization of culture—are alive and well today in the College of Professional Studies and Northeastern’s new Professional Advancement Network.