There and back again. These Northeastern employees couldn’t stay away.

Cecilia Akuffo, Director of Communications and Events for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Rosa Rodriguez Williams believes she was always supposed to end up at Northeastern.

One of many employees who left the university before ultimately returning, Rodriguez Williams’ journey is far from straight forward but indicative of what makes Northeastern home to so many students, faculty and staff.

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Rosa Rodriguez Williams, Northeastern executive director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, poses for a portrait. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

In 2007, she applied to be the director of the Latinx Student Cultural Center and, after a rigorous search process, got the job. But her Northeastern journey was just getting started.

Rodriguez Williams worked at the center for 13 years before leaving in 2020 to serve as the Museum of Fine Arts’ first director of belonging. There, she worked to expand what kind of stories were being told through art and exhibitions, and to rethink the museum space itself.

Although she loved her work and relationships at the MFA, “some of the work that I wanted to do, they weren’t ready to do.” Now, like a boomerang, she’s back at Northeastern, working as the executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“If you can make an institution like Northeastern lead in so many ways–having 14 regional campuses in three countries–why can’t we do that with DEI?” she says. “To be part of an organization that wants to lead in everything, I want to also lead in this area and be a model to institutions globally.”

She calls her experience at the MFA an “incredible whirlwind,” but it’s also an apt description for her journey to and from Northeastern as a whole. And she’s not alone. Many more Northeastern faculty and staff have left and come back. Here are their stories.

Kerry Gallivan

Assistant vice president, global finance and operations

Kerry Gallivan started out at Northeastern as a student, graduating with her cardiopulmonary science degree in 1994 before switching gears to go all in on business with an MBA in finance. It ended up being the right decision.

In 2011, after a five-year stint in the university’s capital planning division and a short time at the Pyramid Hotel Group, she became senior director of finance under then-senior vice president Philomena Mantella. Gallivan’s role spanned a portfolio that covered residential, University Health and Counseling Services and enrollment. It also included what was at the time President Joseph E. Aoun’s newly announced concept for regional campuses. Suffice to say, the university was growing rapidly.

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Northeastern AVP global network operations Kerry Gallivan. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“I love to learn; I love engaging with people,” Gallivan says. “It was better than just doing a strict accounting job where you’re closing the books every month.”

Gallivan pivoted away from Northeastern, taking a job as CFO for Elaine Construction Group, a family run construction company based in Newton, Massachusetts, in 2020. But the decision to leave Northeastern haunted her.

“It made me feel empty,” she says. “I guess I was a little ignorant thinking that another company would be similar as far as the connections and the relationships and the eagerness to want to learn.”

Coming back to Northeastern in 2021, Gallivan was shocked to see how much the university had grown in the nine months she’d been away. The fast-paced, forward-thinking environment and community she had missed were still there, but they had expanded rapidly.

“Just when I thought things weren’t going to move as fast as they were when I left, it’s just much faster,” she says. “The growth is incredible.”

Cecilia Akuffo

Director, communications and events, diversity, equity and inclusion

Cecilia Akuffo’s journey through Northeastern is anything but straightforward. From assistant director of a state program in the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs to a freelance journalist, Akuffo had seen it all before she started her journalism master’s degree at the university in 2009.

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Cecilia Akuffo, Director of Communications and Events for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

After graduating in 2013, she worked as an IT recruiter, an experience that eventually brought her back to Northeastern to work in the university’s human resources talent acquisition group. She stayed at Northeastern for five years before leaving in 2019 to work for the state again, this time as a talent acquisition manager.

Unfortunately, the move to remote work in 2020 highlighted some workplace issues that Akuffo couldn’t ignore. She left and started a podcast called Workplace Fairness and Dignity with the intent of making it into a business.

“I really wanted to talk about things that people don’t talk about,” Akuffo says. “I was able to [draw on] a lot of memories of work I had done in journalism, like Professor Dan Kennedy’s class, and I taught myself how to do a podcast and I started a blog.”

She ended up bringing Karl Reid, Northeastern’s chief inclusion officer, on her show, which ultimately became her ticket back to Northeastern.

“What brought me back was, after the initial conversation with the chief inclusion officer, I saw his vision and work for the university,” she says. “For that particular reason, I came back because I wanted to be a part of that work.”

Lori Jacques

Assistant vice president, alumni relations

When Lori Jacques joined Northeastern’s alumni relations team in 2005, it “was nothing like it is today,” she says. Previously at Boston College, Jacques had “reinvigorated” BC’s alumni relations program and was brought on to help do the same at the university, by focusing on the Northeastern student experience, from the classroom to co-op. 

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Lori Jacques, AVP of alumni relations. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“As soon as students come on to campus, [we need to] look at them as alumni at that time,” Jacques says. “So, to that point, we created positions within our office that solely focus on student engagement.”

Jacques has firsthand knowledge of how valuable the Northeastern experience can be. 

In 2010, she left to oversee alumni relations efforts for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her experience there was completely different. At the time she left, Northeastern had about 240,000 alumni compared to 50,000 at UMass Dartmouth. She had to make do with a small team and few resources. Like a student on co-op, she found her time away from Northeastern became invaluable when she returned in 2013 as the assistant vice president of alumni relations.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today without that experience at UMass Dartmouth because … it gave me a different perspective,” she says. “And as a result, I’ve been able to be more flexible here in this role, which is completely needed at Northeastern.”

Leila Eid

Executive director, creative experience and digital engagement

When Leila Eid stepped foot on campus in 1999 as a student, she immediately started looking for a work study job. She secured a development events assistant job and spent the next five years in the university’s development and events offices.

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Leila Eid, Executive Director of creative experience and digital engagement at Northeastern, poses for a portrait in ISEC. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

By the time she graduated in 2004, the office had made an event coordinator role just for her. When she left in 2017 for a job closer to home at Merrimack College, she was the director of campaign events.

“Specifically in an events role, and now having been at two other universities, I can say that the work that we get to do at Northeastern is innovative, it’s creative and we’re always pushed to do things differently,” Eid says.

Eid ended up spending about three years at Merrimack and another six months at Babson College before returning to Northeastern as the executive director of creative experience and digital engagement.

“I always joke I was gone for four years, but it felt like four days,” she says. “So much hadn’t changed, but at the same time, the university is constantly growing.”

In the nearly four years she had been gone, Northeastern had expanded beyond Boston to encompass 14 global campuses. For someone who had spent most of their professional life on the Boston campus, it was impressive but not surprising.

“The thing that made me want to come back to Northeastern was the culture, the people and really the leadership that we have,” Eid says. “I look at it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for really, really amazing leadership. They’re smart, they take risks, and the success shows.”

Matthew Houde

Associate athletic director, communications, public relations and broadcasting

During Matthew Houde’s first stint at Northeastern, from 2012 to 2019, he rose through the ranks from an entry-level position in the athletics department to assistant athletic director for communications. He worked extensively with the men’s ice hockey program and the man who would be his beacon back to Northeastern, current Athletic Director Jim Madigan.

It was a “tremendous experience,” which is why, in 2019, Houde agonized over the decision to leave Northeastern for his alma mater UMass Amherst.

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Matt Houde, Northeastern associate athletic director of communications, public relations and broadcasting. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“It was an extremely difficult decision, to be quite frank with you,” he says. “They were tugging at the heartstrings a little bit there.”

He ended up taking the job at UMass, assistant athletic director in communications and public relations, and while he thinks it was the right decision for his “professional growth,” Northeastern kept calling. More than just the appeal of Northeastern was Madigan, who was named athletic director in 2021. 

“At the end of the day, he’s just someone who I believe in,” Houde says. “If there’s somebody who cares about Northeastern University more than Jim Madigan, I have yet to meet that person.”

When the associate athletic director job opened at Northeastern, Houde jumped at the chance. He came back to an athletic department that had risen in prominence and recognition due to new talent on and off the field. More importantly, he returned to “a place that I’ve considered home over the last 10 years.”

Denis Sullivan

Professor, political science and international affairs
Co-director, Middle East Center

For 35 years, Denis Sullivan has been a boomerang at Northeastern, flying off on Fullbrights and taking new job opportunities before always returning home.

Sullivan was finishing up his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 1987 when he saw an opening for “the ideal job:” a tenure track political science and Middle East studies professor. It was at Northeastern, a university he had never heard of, but he knew he had to apply.

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Denis Sullivan, professor of political science and international affairs poses. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Coming to Northeastern, Sullivan initially balked at how few resources he had access to and had even considered applying for another job before he decided to treat his first year as a trial run. 

“I thought, ‘Let’s see how this goes,’” he says. “Thirty-five years later, I’m still seeing how it goes, and it’s going incredibly.”

Although Northeastern is his “academic home,” that hasn’t stopped Sullivan from taking off to pursue other opportunities. In 2003, he accepted a job offer from Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. At the time, his dean, Jim Stellar, said that rather than quitting his job at Northeastern, he should take a leave of absence. Sullivan listened to his dean, and after a year and a half at Bentley, he was glad he did. 

“When I went to Bentley and got a leave of absence from my dean, he told me to consider it my ‘co-op,’ going off to get other work experience outside of NU and bring it back to campus after my ‘co-op’ ended,” he says. “He was certain I was not really leaving Northeastern for good, and he was right.”

When he left Northeastern the first time, the international affairs department was essentially a one-man show. It was just getting its feet on the ground. After he returned, he started to build it up with new faculty hires. With each hire, he expanded his pet project, the Dialogues of Civilization program, which he had helped start in 1995.

In 2020, Stellar was gone, but Sullivan followed his advice again. He accepted a dean position at a university in Dubai and took another leave of absence, one he thought would be final. It wasn’t.

“I know what Dorothy Gale was saying when she said, ‘There’s no place like home,’” Sullivan says. 

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