SESP Leadership Institute

SESP Leadership Institute

The School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) Leadership Institute was founded as a summer academic program focused on supporting incoming students and rising sophomores to draw on their histories and perspectives to shape their respective fields, thriving at Northwestern and beyond.

Students in the program will take one SESP core requirement class (Learning Sciences 214: Culture and Cognition), engage in a variety of leadership and team-building activities, and connect with professors, graduate students, and fellow undergraduates. The institute also provides opportunities to learn about how to get involved in a range of organizations and activities at Northwestern.  Due to the global public health crisis, SLI 2020 has migrated to a fall-quarter format for the 2020-2021 school year. See below to learn more about our modified format for this year.

SESP Leadership Institute FAQ

Am I eligible to participate in SLI?

SLI is open to all rising first-year, second-year, and transfer students who are the first in their families to attend college and/or are from lower-income backgrounds. Most of our participants have been enrolled in the School of Education and Social Policy, though we have had students from almost all other school participate as well. Being in a school other than SESP does not preclude you from participating. 

When is SLI 2020?

SLI has historically taken place in the 2 1/2 weeks before Wildcat Welcome (new student orientation) each year. Due to the global public health crisis, SLI 2020 has migrated to a fall-quarter format for the 2020-2021 school year.

Whoa! That's a big change. Can you tell me more?

SLI 2020 will serve as a true co-curricular opportunity, in that the program, typically condensed to 2 1/2 weeks during the summer, will run the full length of an academic quarter. This means you will take Learning Sciences 214: Culture & Cognition concurrently with other fall-quarter classes. SLI will comprise the course, a Leaders Lab (for which you will also earn academic credit toward your degree) and community-building. We will still have undergraduate peer leaders, graduate teaching assistants, the administrative co-directors/advisers and the alumni community supporting the program and bringing our newest cohort in to the fold. This is an opportunity to broaden SLI's creativity within the curriculum, enrich the community and cultivate a deeper experience.

What will the academic portion of SLI look like?

The academic portion of SLI 2020 will look a lot like a regular class, except for a few key benefits: no other classroom on campus will offer quite the community, writing feedback and support, and deep academic engagement with like-minded peers and faculty. In the Culture and Cognition class (LRN SCI 214; check out a previous syllabus of the course here) students engage in critical theory and discuss how their life experiences and narratives shape who they are. The homework is very reading- and writing-intensive. The Leaders Lab component of SLI (SESP 218) is a series of peer-led workshops that focus on identity development, navigating Northwestern, community organizing and community building, among other things.

What other activities will I participate in during SLI 2020?

This is still largely TBD. As with most other fall 2020 courses, SLI will be at least mostly virtual. Depending on the state of the pandemic and state/University restrictions, we may or may not be able to host any in-person activities.

What will I get out of SLI 2020?

  • Academic credits and quality letter grades that fulfill two units of SESP undergraduate degree requirements
  • Lifetime connections with your cohort, your counselors, and SESP faculty and staff
  • Increased awareness of and comfort navigating various resources at Northwestern
  • Beloved community in these uncertain, difficult times
  • Access and belonging to a vast, dynamic SLI alumni community
  • So much love

I’m interested in applying! What do I do now?

Expressing your SLI interest is as easy as filling out the SLI 2020 interest form (this should take you no longer than 10 minutes). Fall 2020 course registration will take place in late August for returning and transfer students, and during Wildcat Welcome (on September 10 and 11) for new first-years. Once you fill out the form, you will hear from Vanessa Champagne, SLI graduate assistant extraordinaire, and Caitlin Burnett, an administrative co-director of the program, who will answer questions and connect you to a peer leader/alum.

If you believe you are eligible for SLI and did not receive an email OR are currently in another Northwestern school and are interested in applying, please still fill out the interest form!


Please email Caitlin Burnett at

Led by SESP Professors

Contact Us

Student Affairs Office

School of Education and Social Policy

Walter Annenberg Hall
2120 Campus Drive, Suite 123
Evanston, IL 60208
Northwestern University

Phone: 847/491-3790