Wildcat Welcome 2020: 'My Door is Physically and VIrtually Open'

Wildcat Welcome 2020: 'My Door is Physically and VIrtually Open'

arch maskedCultivating a supportive community is a top priority for the 2020-21 school year, School of Education and Social Policy Dean David Figlio stressed during the first virtual Wildcat Welcome week in Northwestern University history.

Addressing first-year and transfer students remotely, Figlio said SESP is committed to “doing everything we can to nurture the special feeling that makes SESP the happiest School at Northwestern University, even as the pandemic tests us all.”

That’s not because SESP students have their heads in the sand, Figlio said. Rather, graduates invariably report being the most satisfied at Northwestern because of “the genuine and deep relationships that students form with faculty and staff members and with one another,” Figlio said. “We want you to engage with everything that you think is right and wrong in the world, in our communities, at Northwestern, in SESP.”

SESP students are never told what to think, Figlio added. “Our overarching objective is to help you refine HOW you think, and HOW you can effect the change you want.”

In a welcome back video greeting sent to undergraduates, faculty member Shirin Vossoughi also stressed the importance of collective care and well-being. She encouraged students “to engage in meaningful study and social action together.”

In the words of educator and activist Angela Davis, ‘‘you have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time,’” said Vossoughi, assistant professor of learning sciences who co-leads the SESP Leadership Institute.

Less than half of the SESP community returned to Northwestern’s Evanston campus for Fall Quarter due to health guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic. With limited exceptions, first-and second-year undergraduate students were asked to begin on a remote-only basis. Third and fourth year-undergraduates – and graduate students – were able to return to campus as previously planned.

Students who did return were asked to participate in Wildcat Wellness, a two-week period designed to reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19 and to better position the campus community to start the quarter healthy and well. 

Figlio, beginning his 26th year as a professor and his fourth as SESP Dean, plans to hold a few traditional events in person and outdoors, including small group dine with the dean events for juniors and seniors. An ice cream truck will still appear near the Annenberg East lawn for the Ice Cream Social, and Figlio is scheduling socially distanced walks along Lake Michigan with members of the SESP community. In addition, professors will have occasional meals with small groups of students.Dean Figlioi masked by the arch

Virtual “dine with the dean” events will be held for all undergraduates, as well as graduate students

“My door is physically and virtually open to you,” Figlio said.

Northwestern’s Not-So-Hidden Gem

SESP’s student body triples from first year to senior year as word spreads about the tight-knit community, the innovative classes and programs, and the School’s devoted academic advisers, faculty, and staff.

Overall, 192 first-year students from across the U.S. and the world – including nine who transferred from other schools – joined the SESP family in September. The Class of 2024 includes 24 students who are participating in the SESP Leadership Institute (SLI), an intensive two-week, academic program designed to support incoming Wildcats. Normally held in the summer, SLI was moved to Fall Quarter due to COVID-19.

The five SESP undergraduate majors – called concentrations – include human development in contextlearning and organizational change, learning sciencessecondary teaching, and social policy.

The School also offers master’s degrees in education (teaching), learning sciences, learning and organizational change and higher education administration and policy. Doctoral programs include learning sciences, human development and social policy, and the nation’s first joint computer sciences/learning sciences program.

Figlio, who traditionally sings or adapts lyrics from songs to usher in the new academic year, referred to the late Chadwick Boseman, the actor who played Black Panther, and quoted lines from the movie’s opening track:

“What do you stand for?

“Are you an activist? What are your city plans for?”

“The answers to those questions may change over time, as you learn more about yourself and the world around you,” Figlio said. “They may be different when you’re 20, or 30, or 40, or 50, or beyond. But whatever those answers are, my job and that of my colleagues is to help to equip you with the tools to articulate just what your city plans are – and how to make them a reality.”

A snapshot of each program follows:

MA and PhD in Learning Sciences

New students: Melanie West, Leslie Russell, Vien Nguyen, Gautam Bisht, Charles Logan; and two masters students: Cortez Watson Jr. and Megan Butler.
Total: 45.

Joint PhD in Computer Science + Learning Sciences:

New Students: Matt Brucker, Ayse Hunt, Michael Smith

Human Development and Social Policy:

New students: Lara Altman, Kanika Dhanda, Varun Devakonda, Fortunate Kelechi Ekwuruke, Zina Noel, and Karla Thomas.

Master of Science in Education (MSEd)

New students: 43 first year students from 11 states, including 32 from Illinois.
Total: 71

MS in Higher Education Administration and Policy (MSHE)

New students: 34 began in the summer or fall, an increase from 24 in 2019. This year’s incoming class includes a Gate Millennium Scholar, a former analyst for Abercrombie and Fitch, former Americorps volunteers, Northwestern faculty and staff members, and a current English as a Second Language teacher in Chicago Public Schools.
Total: 70

Master’s in Learning and Organizational Change program (MSLOC)

New students: Thirty-three first-year students from 13 states and Washington D.C. joined MSLOC from a record number of applicants. MSLOC also had a record 15 students enroll in the Designing for Organizational Effectiveness Certificate and started the second cohort of Leading Equity and Inclusion in Organizations Certificate over the summer, after graduating the first cohort in June.
Total: 139 students, with 61 percent living outside of Illinois. “It reflects not only the pandemic, but also our efforts to make coursework accessible to students across the U.S. and beyond,” said Diane Knoepke (MS16), associate director of student affairs for MSLOC.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 10/12/20