SESP Enriches Undergraduate Curriculum

SESP Enriches Undergraduate Curriculum

Diane NashDiane Nash speaking at Northwestern University in 2019.

The School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) updated its undergraduate curriculum to emphasize global engagement, advanced research methods, experiential learning, and more, Dean David Figlio announced.

In addition, philanthropic funding supported the launch of several new innovative courses, including Modern Organizations and Innovations, which partners a SESP faculty member with an industry leader, and a new hybrid course that brings together students from Northwestern University and Evanston Township High School.

Other new classes, many of which were successfully piloted last spring, feature co-instructors with backgrounds in policy, non-profits, business, and other disciplines. At the same time, students will be working outside the classroom and in the field.

“We want every class to be based on state-of-the-art thinking and real-world relevance,” Figlio said. “Philanthropic support helps us give faculty the headspace they need to create innovative new courses and hire talented instructors.”

The new global engagement requirement, which impacts those who begin in the fall of 2019, encourages students to experience a culture different than their own.  Students can fulfill the requirement by studying abroad for one quarter or taking a year of a language course, said Susan Olson, assistant dean for student affairs. Forty-five percent of SESP undergraduates study abroad.

New course highlights:

‘Cats and ‘Kits Learn Together: Working with Evanston Township High School (ETHS) teacher and alumnus Corey Winchester (BS10), professors Megan Bang and Shirin Vossoughi created a hybrid course model, which brings together SESP undergraduates with ETHS students. The collaborative courses are team-taught by both a Northwestern professor and high school teacher. Educational justice is the theme for the initial class in the winter of 2020.

Innovation and Disruption in the Real World: From Match.com to Uber, technological advances have radically transformed how businesses look and operate. In “Modern Organizations and Innovations,” SESP faculty member Jeannette Colyvas partners each week with a different prominent industry-based co-instructor. By hearing directly from those at the leading edge in the field, the students get a bird’s eye view into state-of-the-art innovations. Students explore everything from how new business models allowed Uber and Airbnb fundamentally change their sectors to the ways that both new technologies and business models have shaped social activism and change.

Guest presenters for the previous course included:

  • John Patzakis, JD., founder and executive chairman of the board, X1
  • Amol M. Joshi, PhD., co-founder BeVocal and assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the Oregon State University College of New Business.
  • Nick Switanek, PhD., marketing director for artificial intelligence, Teradata
  • Helena Burh, PhD., product manager at Spotify, Sweden
  • Gary Kremen, MBA, founder Match.com and Clean Power Finance, angel investor, and chair of Santa Clara Water District 

An Economist’s View of Higher Education: Taught by SESP Dean David Figlio, one of the world’s leading economists, the course “Economics of Education: The University” explores how economists grapple with important higher education issues. The class draws on the expertise of some of Northwestern’s top administrators, including Professor and President Morton Schapiro and culminates with a final presentation in front of higher education experts. Last spring these included Northwestern Provost Jonathan Holloway, Jake Julia, vice provost, and Marianna Kepka, associate vice president for change management. Figlio covers a variety of topics, including how universities are structured, college rankings, admissions and enrollment, financial aid, staffing the college classroom, and student life.

Why Don’t More Women Enter Politics? Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering (KSMG85) asks this question in her class “American Women and Political Leadership.” By the end of the course, students were making passionate speeches and considering a run of their own. Rotering’s network provided several high-profile guest speakers, including civil rights icon Diane Nash who talked about her work organizing the Nashville lunch counter sit-in as a Freedom Rider, and former Presidential candidate and Ambassador Carol Mosely Braun, the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky discussed her personal journey, working in Congress, and how to understand and represent the needs of a diverse constituency. And Sheila Nix, current adviser for Joe Biden's 2020 presidential campaign, spoke on technological efforts to improve accessibility to voting.

Statistics Are Not Scary. Students don’t need a statistics background to take the accessible class “Quantitative Tools” class by Mischa Fisher, chief economist at ANGI Homeservices, and the former chief economist for the state of Illinois. The class is designed to help everyone understand and use data to make sound decisions. Fisher, a former legislative director for Congress in Washington, brought in top decision-makers and leaders from a range of policy areas and industries, ranging from energy and climate to transportation and finance.

There is No “I” in “Team” – In Mindy Magrane’s course “Team Dynamics,” students learn about the subtle and sometimes obvious forces that influence a team’s behavior and performance. How do introverts and extroverts influence communication patterns? What’s the best way to handle conflict. When the class studies innovation, participate in a session on improvisation led by Second City’s corporate training arm. “Teaming with people is about being flexible and thinking on your feet,” Magrane said. “It’s about learning to lead and follow, being adaptable to what comes your way.” Key topics include studying how relationships at every level -- between people, groups and organizations – team development, roles, leadership, and navigating conflict. 

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 9/18/19