Northeastern unveils new academic plan, Experience Unleashed, with President Aoun’s annual address to Faculty Senate

‘There is a demand for what we have,’ Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun told the Faculty Senate in his annual address. Other schools are trying to emulate Northeastern’s experiential learning model, he said. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

As the world becomes increasingly more connected and complex, institutes of higher education need to prepare students to engage in work, community, research, and social movements in new ways. Northeastern University, the leader in global experiential education, will continue to nurture the next generation of global citizens with a new academic plan, Experience Unleashed, that’s designed to integrate every aspect of modern life, said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern.

In his annual address to the members of the Faculty Senate, Aoun championed Northeastern’s pioneering educational and research model and outlined the plan for the future.

“The world is noticing our model, and they are trying to duplicate that in terms of experiential education, in terms of impact, and in terms of a strong desire to be inclusive in an innovative way,” Aoun said.

The university expects to differentiate itself from other institutions through a number of ambitious projects that Aoun touched on, including the new academic plan, which faculty helped to design.

The previous strategic plan, Northeastern 2025, focused on the interaction between humans and machines, and set a blueprint for helping learners to succeed in an era of unprecedented technological, social, and economic transformation. The new plan will build on Northeastern 2025 and incorporate the physical, biological, human, and digital worlds in Northeastern’s educational and research endeavors.

“We’re going to be engaged in the context we’re operating in,” Aoun said, citing as an example the ways in which the Black Lives Matter social justice movement was interpreted differently in Canada and Europe. “So if you want to study systemic racism and if you want to focus on inclusion, you have to understand the context in which they exist,” he said.

After welcoming the most diverse freshman class ever in 2021, Northeastern is exploring ways to diversify its faculty and staff, while delivering on a promise to expand access to opportunities for all.

Aoun said Northeastern will build partnerships with other institutions to open up access to educational and professional programs for people who have historically been shut out of them.

In addition to charting a new course for the future, Aoun acknowledged the achievements of the past few years.

He pointed to the fact that Northeastern received a record number of applications for the 2021 academic year, reflecting a particularly strong interest in experiential education and combined majors. “The combined majors have been very, very much in demand,” Aoun said. More than 50 percent of those applying to the university already have combined majors, he added.

And, he said, the university will continue to build out more robust, personalized coaching, advising, and counseling services for students.

“In many ways, co-op is the ultimate form of a personalized [educational] journey, but we haven’t personalized our offerings fully yet,” he said.

The global university system that the university is building is another differentiating factor. The recent merger with Mills College in Oakland, California, will give Northeastern the distinction of being the only U.S. university with two comprehensive campuses on each coast, and may attract more students to the racial and social justice curriculum that Mills is famous for.

“So in many ways, our platform is becoming nationwide and worldwide,” Aoun said.

In the area of research, Northeastern received the largest number of federal research grants for COVID-19 research and posted its highest annual tally ever for federal research dollars overall.

He thanked faculty leaders for focusing their energy, attention, and research competence on the pandemic. “It paid off,” he said. The NSF grants added to what was a record-setting year in general for attracting federal research awards—at $185 million, it was a record for the university.

Higher education as a whole, however, isn’t doing well. In recent years, only 34 percent of colleges and universities filled their seats. “This year we bucked that trend” while other schools were in a steady state of decline, he told the Faculty Senate.

“There is a demand for what we have,” Aoun said.

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