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The next big ideas for Northeastern

President Joseph E. Aoun speaks Wednesday at the beginning of a retreat where multi-departmental "integration teams" presented proposals for innovative ideas thay argued would advance Northeastern and realize the goals of the new academic plan, Northeastern 2025. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

On Wednesday, teams of university leaders, faculty, and staff presented bold proposals for innovative ideas they argued would advance Northeastern and realize the goals of the new academic plan, Northeastern 2025.

University senior leadership formed seven multi-departmental integration teams—called “I-Teams”—that were charged with imagining bold ideas and ways to implement them. The teams presented those ideas to Northeastern’s senior leadership and each other at an afternoon retreat at East Village and discussed ways in which their ideas align and could be implemented.

Each I-Team focused on one of the following topics: global system of admissions, digital lifelong learning, employee competencies and new hiring, a Northeastern digital commons, integrating humanics into student learning, branding around experience, and integrating constituent relations.

Common themes that emerged throughout the afternoon included innovation in academic offerings and global experiences, technology that connects people through experiences and fosters lifelong learning, leveraging shared data, implementing a humanics curriculum and recruiting and retaining talent.

President Joseph E. Aoun underscored the importance of breaking down silos and working collaboratively across the university to achieve the vision of Northeastern 2025. “We all have to work across our boundaries, across our departments, across our schools, and across our thinking,” he said. “The I-Teams that were formed will lead us precisely in this direction.”

Two ideas presented by the global system of admissions team were creating a “first-year, three-continent experience” for students and a “One Application for Life” program that leverages Northeastern’s global university system to facilitate seamless lifelong learning and connections with the university.

“It’s amazing to ponder what students can do with such an experience at the beginning of their academic careers,” Laurie Kramer, director of the Honors Program, said of the “first-year, three-continent experience” proposal.

The humanics team discussed a multifaceted proposal to integrate the concept across Northeastern’s curriculum, including developing one- or two-credit “pop-ups” on timely topics that integrate humanics, identifying combined majors that could receive a “humanics” designation, and even having a humanics experience become a graduation requirement.

Aoun focuses on humanics in his new book, Robot-Proof, which explores the role of higher education in the age of artificial intelligence. His blueprint involves educating learners to master three new literacies: technological literacy, data literacy, and human literacy. In the book, Aoun lays out a framework for a new discipline—humanics—that builds on our innate human strengths and prepares learners to compete in a labor market in which smart machines work alongside human professionals. He argues that students will always have traits—such as creativity, entrepreneurship, ethical thinking, and cultural agility—that robots don’t.

The “branding” team proposed a global social campaign called “Experience Now” that centered around the notion that “experience” is the essence of Northeastern’s brand and is also a concept that people beyond the university can relate to. The campaign would involve enlisting global influencers to create videos highlighting their own personal experiences, share them on social media channels, and encourage others to do the same.

The “Digital Commons” team shared the vision for Northeastern Commons, an online platform that facilitates the formation of groups that can collaborate, engage in scholarly conversation, and share information. One notable application for the platform is research; the team is piloting the concept with Northeastern’s Global Resilience Institute, which is hosting a major global summit on campus in March.

The “Talent” team presented an outline for making Northeastern a more “data informed, talent-focused organization,” particularly focusing on assessing employee competencies and effectively onboarding new employees. The team’s lead, Jane Moyer, vice president for human resources management, underscored the importance of talent, noting that it’s critical to implementing the ideas proposed at the retreat.

“All the presentations we saw today were incredible, and there are so many really interesting ideas,” Moyer said. “But not one of them is possible unless we have the right people in the right places and enable them to do these amazing things.”

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