By Alejandro Serrano, deputy news editor
Northeastern University’s (NU) Social Impact Lab (SIL) student leaders hosted “Northeastern Changemaker Day” on Monday. The event celebrated NU being named a Social Changemaker campus by Ashoka U, a global network of student entrepreneurs, with events in the Curry Student Center and afterHOURS.
According to NU SIL director Rebecca Riccio, NU’s Social Enterprise Institute seized the attention of Ashoka U in 2012 with its work in social entrepreneurship education. The SIL and Social Enterprise Institute both led the advancement of the process.
“At Northeastern, experiential learning often means learning to make a difference,” Riccio said in an email to The News. “That’s easy to take for granted, but the Changemaker Campus designation process was a chance to step back and take stock of just how deeply changemaking is embedded in our DNA as an institution.”
SIL communication assistant Becky Darling and former student ambassador Ali Fraenkel accepted the designation on the university’s behalf at the Ashoka U Exchange in New Orleans last week.
The selection process has three phases, according to the Campus Changemaker Program Overview. The first phase is a “360° Campus Scan” – an inventory tool structured to analyze the changemaking environment at a university over the course of two-to-six months – that costs $4,000. The second phase is a visit from Ashoka U to the university campus for one or two days that costs $6,000.
Lastly, during the final round, two university representatives present to experts who then assess if the university qualifies as a changemaker campus. A university only advances to the next phase if the current phase “has been sufficiently satisfied,” according to Ashoka U’s website. The final phase costs $10,000.
“Northeastern completed the selection process over the course of two years, showing exceptional commitment to building its ecosystem for social entrepreneurship and social innovation across campus,” said Sarah-Marie Hopf, Ashoka U campus partnerships manager, in an email to The News. “Programs such as co-ops and dialogues of civilization challenge students to think about real-world implications of their studies.”
Senior international affairs and human services major Darling said the celebration was planned ahead of time, being that the designation process was already under way.
“We wanted the event to be representative of everything that has been going on, so we reached out to student groups that may be interested,” she said at the Curry Student Center indoor quad, where there was a white board with changemaking ideas, such as social movements, communications and direct service, posted on index cards.
The designation is awarded to “leading institutions in social innovation education,” according to Ashoka U. Other higher education innovators that are a part of the consortium include Brown University and the University of Maryland.
Although NU is considered a social innovator, senior biology major Andrew Bloy was more skeptical of this label.
“Northeastern likes to look at itself like a global and local institution,” he said. “They are getting this award for entrepreneurship in the business school, but do they have a big commitment to social change? No. They have started the Social Impact Lab and the Social Enterprise Institute […] all this stuff all over the world, but I feel like the impact is lacking in the local community such as workers and students.”
Class of 2015 NU alumna Fraenkel said she remembers when the evaluation process began two years ago and when Ashoka U visited campus last spring.
“Everyone was on board [when the process began…] there is a lot that can be said about the recognition but that’s not to even say what can happen from here,” she said. “For me, it is about the heart and the mind, people asking themselves how they see themselves in their community.”
Global health equity advocate network Partners in Health (PIH) Engage was one of the student groups present at the celebration.
“It [the recognition] is really exciting – well-warranted, and our student groups represent that,” PIH Engage representative and junior biology major Matthew Zinck said. “It will give us a platform to continue our goals and achieve larger impact.”
Fraenkel said she is excited to see what students do now that NU has received the designation.
“Emotionally, I think this is a point in time that we can come together as curious humans,” she said. “It starts from the mind shift from ‘me’ to ‘we’ and what we can do.”
Photo by Alex Melagrano