George Thrush: This course has evolved into one that is about teaching stu­dents who might not be majoring in design, the ben­e­fits of design thinking and how that can help them solve prob­lems. What I hope that we can talk about today are two issues that I know are very close to your heart, and I think you have employed some of these tech­niques implic­itly or explic­itly.  

The first is inno­vating in higher edu­ca­tion, which is a huge topic. And the other is your role as the client for the new Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Sci­ence and Engi­neering Complex.

So you’ve been here 10 years now. In higher edu­ca­tion, which has been such a changing playing field, what would you say has changed the most in the past 10 years?

Pres­i­dent Aoun [Addressing the stu­dents]: What has changed the most in higher edu­ca­tion is you. That’s the first and most impor­tant aspect of the change, because your expec­ta­tions are dif­ferent. You are the dig­ital gen­er­a­tion; you want things now and you want them any­time and any­where. And higher edu­ca­tion has yet to adapt. And that’s an aspect that we are now going to build: per­son­al­ized edu­ca­tion. You’re going to see an enor­mous shift from the teacher-​​centered envi­ron­ment to a learner-​​centered environment.

Per­son­al­iza­tion of higher edu­ca­tion is not new to North­eastern. Co-​​op is the ulti­mate form of per­son­al­ized edu­ca­tion because you are there, you are looking in your co-​​op environment—whether it’s for-​​profit, whether it’s not-​​for-​​profit, whether it’s a startup, whether it’s in Shanghai, or Cape Town, or Sin­ga­pore, or London—you are looking at the world and you are looking at your­self, trying to under­stand what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re good at, what you have to work on; and that is per­son­al­ized education.

No one is dri­ving co-​​op but you. When we started looking at per­son­al­iza­tion, we knew that we already had a great asset, which is co-​​op and expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion. So now the next evo­lu­tion is going to focus more and more on pro­viding you with oppor­tu­ni­ties to have a per­son­al­ized edu­ca­tion not only when you are here, but also for life. You may ask, “Why do I need it? Why do I need to have access to learning for life?” And that’s some­thing we’re going to discuss.

But to go back to pro­fessor Thrush’s ques­tion: You are dif­ferent from your pre­de­ces­sors in your expec­ta­tions, in what you do and how you do it, and how you learn. Yet, higher edu­ca­tion is not talking about per­son­al­iza­tion. It is still talking about pro­viding the clas­sical, curriculum-​​based approach. 


Thrush: Let’s switch gears and talk about the Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Sci­ence and Engi­neering Com­plex and your role as the client. The reason I want to talk about it is not just because I like cool archi­tec­ture, which I do, but because it seems to me a very clear example of how dif­ferent stake­holders would have defined the problem very differently.

If you had asked the trea­surer, they would have said we have this much need and this much cost per researcher. If you’d asked Facil­i­ties, they would have come up with some­thing else. If you’d asked the researchers them­selves, they might have come up with some­thing else. Can you tell us a little bit about what you talked about with the archi­tects? Because you seem like the ideal client to me, someone who under­stands that archi­tec­ture is not mere building. What were your ambi­tions for this thing from the start?

Aoun: We’re going to open this great new sci­ence and engi­neering com­plex. Already we have other uni­ver­si­ties coming here to visit it. Why? First, look at cam­puses at the macro level: You have cam­puses that are monot­onic in their design, for instance all their build­ings are Italian Romanesque. There’s nothing wrong with that, they tend to be in a bucolic envi­ron­ment. North­eastern is an urban envi­ron­ment. You have West Vil­lage, Inter­na­tional Vil­lage, and East Vil­lage, so what we wanted is to reflect the fact that we are daring, to reflect that we are inter­ested in new mate­rial, in new architecture.

We started working together [with Boston-​​based archi­tec­ture firm Payette] to look at the sci­ence and engi­neering com­plex as a state­ment. You saw the archi­tec­ture, we pushed to make it a statement—a state­ment about design, a state­ment about inno­va­tion, a state­ment about being part of Columbus Avenue and opening Columbus Avenue to the com­mu­nity, too.

Then, when we started looking at the inside, we wanted the users—the stu­dents, the faculty—to be bumping into each other as opposed being con­fined to their rooms. All the labs are on one side and all the offices are on the other side, so, when you walk from one to the other you have to interact with others. We made it com­pletely open. The sci­ence and engi­neering com­plex is a mag­nif­i­cent symbol of who we are, and that’s essential.