President Aoun joins students on the Oakland campus to kick off a new Experiential Entrepreneurship program

President Aoun posing for selfies with a group of students.
Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun visits with students during the Experiential Entrepreneurship program on the campus in Oakland, California. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

OAKLAND, Calif. — For Gianna Ou and other students on Northeastern’s Oakland campus, the university’s entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to experiential learning came to life in a unique way less than two months into their college experience.

Ou and the 800-plus other students had their calendars cleared for a two-day Experiential Entrepreneurship program on Tuesday and Wednesday. They were able to visit 31 Bay Area businesses, participate in on-campus panel discussions and exchange ideas with dozens of community and corporate tech leaders across multiple industries.

“I find this really valuable,” said Ou, a business major from San Francisco who was scheduled to visit Oakland companies Marqueta and Gameheads on Wednesday. Her focus Tuesday was on AI education and learning about misinformation. 

“I feel in order to be an entrepreneur or be a leader in any industry, you need to apply what you’re learning,” she said. “A lot of that learning happens when you’re actually doing and experiencing.”

Experiential learning and entrepreneurship are fundamental pillars of a Northeastern education and President Joseph E. Aoun was on hand to help kick off the two-day program and share in the excitement of the students.

Experiential learning allows students to discover what they like and don’t like, Aoun said. “They are essentially learning about themselves.”

First-year students Sean Finch and Eric Huang were excited to share their experiences with Aoun, who was all smiles, happily posing for photos with excited undergrads, faculty and staff.

Finch, who is from Southern California, and Huang, who is from Boston, presented Aoun with black Northeastern baseball caps to sign, as well as a red Huskies banner and even a tennis racquet.

Finch told Aoun he finds Northeastern’s emphasis on experiential learning and entrepreneurship “very unique and very valuable.” The college experiences of his high school classmates, he says, are drab in comparison.

“The students are happy. They are excited,” Aoun said as he walked around talking with dozens of them about life on the Oakland campus.

Organized around three themes: health and wellbeing, tech and creativity, and food and sustainability, the two-day program attracted more than 130 on- and off-campus speakers from public and private companies, according to Carrie Maultsby-Lute, head of partnerships at Northeastern in Oakland. 

Participating businesses included Google, Kaiser Permanente, PayPal, Dignity Moves and the Oakland Zoo, just to name a few.

Constance Yowell, Northeastern’s senior vice chancellor for educational innovation, said the Experiential Entrepreneurship program gives students two days to explore potential careers and where they can make the biggest impact.

“It speaks to the reputation of Northeastern and its impact in the world,” Yowell said. “The second thing is all these companies are looking for amazing talent to work with them and solve problems in the world.”

Bay Area businesses wanted to connect with Northeastern students, Yowell said.

“For the next two days, the world is their classroom,” said Mary Ludden, Northeastern senior vice president for global networks and strategic initiatives, who was also on the Oakland campus for the kickoff event.

“They’re learning their passions can be translated into purpose and, ultimately, outcomes” via products, services and offerings, Ludden said. “You discover interests you may not have been aware of before [coming] to Northeastern. That’s the fun of it.”

This generation is facing many opportunities and challenges, and experiential entrepreneurship best prepares students to tackle the challenges, Ludden said.

The university is planning to expand the program to other locations around the world.

For Finch, the Experiential Entrepreneurship experience gave him a new perspective on how to address the field he is interested in — cybersecurity.

As he and Huang worked through steps to identify the problem and create a poster describing it and the solution, he said: “All of this is helping me understand where companies are failing and where the government is being proactive in solving (the problem) and what I can do to solve it.”

Rich Zou, a freshman from Queens, New York, said Northeastern’s emphasis on experiential entrepreneurship will lead to additional workplace experiences. On Tuesday, Zou said he was looking forward to participating in a conversation with the vice president of Expedia.

“We’re engaging with all these people and building our connections,” he said. “I look forward to internships and co-op opportunities.”

Zou said his freshman experiences have confirmed that he’s made the right decision in coming to Northeastern’s Oakland campus.

“There’s a sense of opportunity here. In any other school it’s really hard for a freshman to have access to being an executive board member in a club,” said Zou, who is co-director of the Husky Startup Challenge in Oakland and is also on student government.

“There are definitely different opportunities and lots of learning experiences,” said freshman Astrid Berger. 

As Aoun discussed with students their problem-solving ideas displayed on posters taped to glass walls of the GSB Pavilion, he asked a group to come up with a fun idea for a photo.

They decided to pose with their pinkie and pointer fingers and thumbs up. It was the American Sign Language gesture for “I love you.”

Cynthia McCormick Hibbert is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at or contact her on X/Twitter @HibbertCynthia.