Global mobility, experiential learning excite new students, parents on Northeastern’s Oakland campus

Thalia Tayara and Nada Kaissi hugging
Thalia Tayara, of Boston, hugs her aunt Nada Kaissi while moving in during Welcome Week at Mills College at Northeastern in Oakland, California. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

OAKLAND, Calif. — The “red carpet” was rolled out on Northeastern University’s Oakland campus this week as hundreds of first-year students arrived to begin the new academic year.

There was no actual red carpet, of course. But the Northeastern school color was everywhere, dotting the campus’s lush green meadows. Red banners, signs and tablecloths welcomed students and parents fresh from airplanes, buses and cars — and guided them like beacons to welcoming, red-shirted staff ready to introduce them to college life.

“We want to make sure everything is lively and enjoyable, that everyone gets what they need,” said Danica Ola, the Oakland campus orientation coordinator, who helped give tours, shuttle students on golf carts and organize on-and-off campus activities.

From Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, about 900 new students will arrive on the Oakland campus. Of those students, 280 are “global scholars” and can choose to study at another Northeastern campus — such as Boston or London — for their remaining semesters.

Nina Brunner, a first-year student from Chicago, is one of them.

Brunner is studying computer science in Oakland until January, when she will move to Northeastern’s London campus and then to the Boston campus to complete her degree. 

For someone who has only been away from home “for sleepaway camp,” Brunner is excited to experience so many diverse cities, spanning the globe, over the course of her college career.

“I’m looking forward to exploring the different cultures,” she said. “It’s a lot different from the Midwest.”

Brunner’s mother, Renee Settels, is also no stranger to world travel. A textile engineer from the Netherlands, Settels moved to the United States when her daughter was born, and sees her access to different Northeastern campuses as a huge advantage in her development — not just as a student, but as a person.

“It’s very exciting to see her be exposed to much more than where she’s from,” Settels said.

Another parent echoed Settel’s enthusiasm for the Global Scholars program.

“It opens doors to other places,” said Ana Linca, mother of first-year student Emily Inga. “When I was in college, I was not offered those options.”

Nina Brunner, of Illinois, decorates her dorm with mother Renee Brunner. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

Linca is from Peru, and is proud of her daughter’s interest in exploring her family’s Peruvian heritage, as well as her father’s Ecuadorian roots. She said Inga, who is from New York and is majoring in computer science, started her high school’s first Latino Club. The global scholars program aligned with her goals of cultural investigation and travel.

Inga plans on spending a year studying in Oakland, then transitioning to Boston. She hopes to find a co-op there helping immigrants with legal documents and working as a translator.

For now, Oakland will be a first step.

“I’m excited for the world experience,” said Inga. “And getting used to living away from home.”

The orientation activities were centered around just that — easing first-year students into being away from home, and finding their place on campus.

“I want students to mingle, develop and find their communities,” Ola said. “It sets the foundation for students to find that support system, explore this new environment and experiences.”

The orientation team handed out a 10–page booklet packed with planned activities all week, ranging from San Francisco excursions to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Cal Academy of Sciences to movie marathons to light-up tag on the Holmgren Meadow, a large grassy field behind historic Mills Hall, the 1871 mansion that housed the original school and dormitories.

Holmgren Meadow, which was decked out with tents and picnic tables, will be host to several orientation gatherings during the week, including a “Carnival Under the Stars” on Thursday night, with food, entertainment and carnival games.

But Ola said that not all students gravitate toward big social shindigs. Some are more introverted and need “quiet zones,” solo activities they can do alongside other students, and build camaraderie through more low-key interactions. Such stations included a “build a husky” area, where students could assemble their own Northeastern mascot, to a succulent planting station, where they could pot and keep a plant in their dorm rooms.

“As much as we want students to have fun, students have fun in different ways,” she said. “We made ‘passive programming stations’ to allow students to be alone and reflect.”

With the Oakland campus boasting 135 acres of verdant forest, fruit trees and streams, Ola and her orientation team encouraged the new students to simply take a walk, sit quietly and take in the tranquility of their new home.

Parent Lucy Brune, from nearby San Jose, had never been to the Oakland campus before and was struck by its beauty.

“I know Oakland but this doesn’t feel like Oakland,” she said.

Brune’s son Ethan is a first-year global scholar studying computer science and business administration.

Although he will shift to the London campus in January, he said he was most excited about Northeastern’s cooperative education program, which allows students to integrate semesters in the classroom with six-month-long full-time jobs at companies all over the world.

“I liked the idea of the Northeastern co-op experience,” he said. “I liked the idea of engaging in the real world.”

First-year student Amir Cohen Simayof walked with his mother Yafit Shalom around the Holmgren Meadow. From San Francisco, Simayof found out about Northeastern’s global scholar program at the last minute from his high school counselor, and applied on a whim.

“At the very end of the deadline, I got in,” he said, and he was glad he did, as he is looking forward to participating in the cooperative education program, practicing computer science skills in the workplace prior to graduation.

“They’re going to insert me in the field and I can get an introduction to work life,” he said.

Simayof and his mother rushed off to see his dorm. A global scholar, he will be in London in January and in Boston for his remaining semesters.

That was a big part of choosing Northeastern for many of the incoming students.

“It felt like the best fit,” said Brunner, a computer science major from Chicago. “I’m super excited to see California, then London, then Boston.”