Written by Greg St. Martin, Jason Kornwitz, Molly Callahan, and Allie Nicodemo.
Photos by Matthew Modoono and Adam Glanzman
Northeastern on Thursday flipped the script on its annual State of the University celebration, presenting an engaging new format in which President Joseph E. Aoun and other university leaders and students delivered remarks from locations across the country and abroad while underscoring Northeastern’s foundational strengths: global, diverse, innovative, entrepreneurial, and experiential.
Northeastern streamed the event live on Facebook, and hosted viewing stations across campus for the address. As part of the event, members of the Northeastern community also visited interactive celebration stations spread out across campus that highlighted these five pillars by showcasing global opportunities, research, the university’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, student organizations, and cultural and resource centers on campus.
Aoun addressed the Northeastern community via live video from London, where he was joined by Richard D’Amore, chair of the Board of Trustees, and students from Northeastern’s N.U.in program. Aoun said this year’s State of the University exemplified Northeastern’s continued push to move beyond the boundaries of place.
“We are building a global university system,” he said, “and it will position us for preeminence. We are leading with our differentiation, which is experiential.”
Aoun noted that providing lifelong learning opportunities and education grounded in experiential discovery is becoming increasingly important with the rise of artificial intelligence and smart systems, which he said present challenges and opportunities. Aoun has authored a new book, Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, in which he proposes a way to educate the next generation of college students to invent, to create, and to discover—to fill needs in society that even the most sophisticated AI agent cannot.
“We are building a global university system, and it will position us for preeminence. We are leading with our differentiation, which is experiential.”
“The mission of higher education,” he said, “is to make people robot-proof throughout their lives. That’s why we are focusing on discovery, lifelong learning, and the human attributes that machines cannot duplicate.” These traits include creativity, entrepreneurship, empathy, teamwork, cultural agility, and ethical thinking, he said.
D’Amore served as a co-chair of Northeastern’s recently concluded Empower fundraising campaign, which exceeded its goal and raised $1.4 billion for students, faculty, and research. “It was a truly amazing community effort,” D’Amore said. “I really believe that campaign reflected real confidence in the vision that you’re hearing about today.”
Northeastern community participates, reacts to SOTU
Some members of the Northeastern community gathered at the Latinx Student Cultural Center, which hosted a station celebrating the university’s diversity, to watch the address. Jordan Clark, a 2011 graduate and current Martin Luther King Jr. Fellow, liked the program’s new format. He equated the five celebration stations to the fast-paced world in which students find themselves now. “Northeastern has the right model, encouraging innovation on campus,” he said. “You have a situation like this where there are five things going on at once and you can be part of all of them if you want it.”
Across campus, Adnan Nurani, S’20, watched the address from the Curry Student Center viewing station. “It’s exciting that we get to be here while there’s so much happening,” he said. Nurani honed in on the experiential opportunities offered at the university. “To think that in four or five years here, you can study and work at the same time is awesome.”
Another of the celebration stations was in the Curry mezzanine, where representatives of the Global Experience Office highlighted the array of global opportunities available to Northeastern students. Information on international co-op, Dialogue of Civilizations, and study abroad filled one table while candy from Italy, Israel, Ireland, and other countries packed another.
After getting the low-down on the Global Experience Office, recent alumnae and current staff member Renuka Muppavarapu, MS’17, sat down to watch the address with dozens of her peers. When it was over, Muppavarapu, who earned her Master of Science in Information Assurance and is now a senior information technology auditor, praised Northeastern’s commitment to global education and innovation. “The university is shooting for the sky,” she said.
At the entrepreneurial celebration station in Dodge Hall, leaders of IDEA, Scout, Generate, the IP CO-LAB, and the Entrepreneurs Club showcased their work for scores of students, faculty, and staff. Many of the attendees grabbed free red fidget spinners emblazoned with black paw prints and sampled food and beverages from Eat Your Coffee and DrinkMaple, two ventures launched by Northeastern students.
Julia Stinson, DMSB’20, networked with a representative of the Entrepreneurs Club, signed up for the group’s mailing list, and then expressed her interest in attending one of the group’s upcoming meetings. “It’s nice to see real-world examples of students doing what I’m studying,” Stinson said of Northeastern’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Swastik Kar, associate professor and undergraduate curriculum chair in the Department of Physics, attended the entrepreneurial celebration station with an eye toward expanding the array of entrepreneurial opportunities available to students in the College of Science. “We’re always looking for ways to enhance the curriculum,” he explained.
Northeastern’s ‘no boundaries’ approach
As part of the speaking program, Provost James C. Bean and Philomena Mantella, senior vice president for enrollment management and student affairs and CEO of the Professional Advancement Network, expanded on how Northeastern 2025, the new academic plan, is fostering the university’s “no boundaries” approach.
“Through our regional campuses, our partners in experiential learning and research, our alumni communities, and the Professional Advancement Network, Northeastern learners and innovators are everywhere in the world,” Mantella said.
Bean, who delivered remarks from the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex, talked about how research at Northeastern is paving pathways to discovery, breaking down barriers between fields of study, and leveraging unique collaborations with industry and other outside partners. These research initiatives, he said, are underway university-wide at ISEC, the George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security, the Global Resilience Institute, and the Coastal Sustainability Institute, among others.
In education, Bean said all of Northeastern’s doctoral programs will have the capability to integrate experiential learning. At the same time, the university is continually adding new programs in emerging fields and developing partnerships such as those with General Electric Co. and Major League Baseball as part of its commitment to lifelong learning and “going where the learners are.”
To emphasize how learning and experiential opportunities continue to grow and expand beyond campus, Bean introduced two students—Alexy Santos, DMSB’20, and Rebecca Dragon, DMSB’19—who spoke from San Francisco, where they are part of the first cohort of Northeastern’s new Semester in Silicon Valley program. The entrepreneurship program enables students to take courses in entrepreneurship and business while working at local startups, launching their own businesses, and networking with alumni and other professionals in the area.
Santos is doing a marketing internship at Groove Labs in San Francisco and working to launch a clothing line bridging casual and formal wear. Dragon is working at a security company and creating a location-based app that will connect students with common interests in the same space and time. Both students said the hands-on, real-world experience and business skills they’ve gained through the program have been invaluable. “The network that you’re able to create out here is vast,” Santos added.