Welcome to the College of Social Sciences and Humanities (CSSH) at Northeastern University, the home of the Experiential Liberal Arts (ELA). The ELA is our dynamic framework for the college’s three-part mission of research, education, and community engagement. Within this framework, students and faculty combine Northeastern’s signature focus on experiential learning with rigorous study of the social sciences and humanities—of history, culture, and society. The topics and skills that we work on matter enormously in today’s quickly changing world.
In the ELA model, students apply and transform their knowledge and skills across a range of contexts, from classroom to community to career. In Northeastern’s groundbreaking cooperative education program, students engage in six-month intensive research or work experiences in businesses, non-profits, and government agencies in Boston and beyond, including historical archives, NGOs, and governmental departments. For example, undergraduate Mason Gersh, a combined major in political science and international affairs, discovered a commitment to human rights while on co-op at Oxfam America and then developed his knowledge of their ethical and institutional implications in Professor Serena Parekh’s philosophy class, “Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century.” Professor Denise Garcia’s “International Conflict and Negotiation” class then prepared him for his second co-op at the U.S. Embassy in London, and he subsequently spent a semester abroad at the renowned London School of Economics.
Diverse perspectives and inclusive environments are key to transforming knowledge through experiential learning. The college offers innovative programs such as Northeastern’s short-term Dialogue of Civilizations and a wide array of classes that integrate community service with learning. Lori Gardinier, director of the Human Services Program, develops service-learning partnerships with nonprofit organizations in Boston and around the world. She regularly leads a Dialogue of Civilizations program to Zambia, where students practice capacity building and nonprofit program evaluation. Across the ELA model, faculty and students aim to recognize and understand human diversity of various kinds in local, global, and organizational contexts and build inclusive environments, in Boston and elsewhere.
Students and scholars in the ELA also thrive by integrating traditional liberal arts capacities—critical thinking, inter-cultural communication, ethical reasoning, aesthetic appreciation—with the new proficiencies of the digital age, such as data visualization, geocoding, text mining, social network analysis, and digital curation. Nicole Aljoe, associate professor of English and African American studies, co-directs the Early Caribbean Digital Archive, affiliated with the NULab for Maps, Texts and Networks, which transforms understandings of literature and culture for graduate and undergraduate students who work on its projects.
A powerful driver of experiential learning is the multigenerational research team, in which students at all levels—undergraduate, masters, and doctoral—work with faculty to develop research questions and applications. For example, the Violence and Justice Research Lab (VJRL), led by Amy Farrell and Carlos Cuevas, associate professors of criminal justice, uses a structured mentoring system for research on the relation of the justice system to violence and victimization. The lab brings together faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students from disciplines across the college to advance social welfare and impact policy.
The integration of research and application that defines the ELA also shapes the college’s three areas of strategic focus, which align with the university’s forward-looking goals described in Northeastern 2025.
The CSSH focus on integrating resilience and sustainability is illustrated by the work of scholars such as University Distinguished Professor Phil Brown, who directs the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute. One of the institute’s teams has collected and mapped public drinking water data from across the U.S. and the globe. Their research has shown that toxic chemicals are found in the drinking water of 15 million Americans. Our work in resilience and sustainability attracts ambitious students such as Maria Robson, who left her position as a global security intelligence analyst in the energy industry to pursue her Ph.D. in political science while undertaking research at Northeastern’s Global Resilience Institute.
In our second area of strategic focus, cultural transformations, governance, and globalization, faculty and students engage in careful cross-cultural, historical and comparative analysis, with attention to questions of culture, society and citizenship, in order to help develop effective and just modes of governance across the broad range of political settings, from the local to the international. For example, CSSH and the Humanities Center are hosting an ACLS/Luce funded research and educational program in cooperation with the School of Journalism that is being led by Liz Bucar, associate professor of religious studies, on “Religion and the Media.”
Our third area of focus, big data and digital methods in the humanities and social sciences, informs research as well as innovative educational programs such as the Master of Science in Urban Informatics, in which Antonio Vázquez Brust learned to use big data to identify indicators of gentrification and collaborated with the Boston Area Research Initiative. Since graduating, Antonio has returned to Buenos Aires and is working with city government and tech companies to set up an Urban Data Lab at a local university.
Students and faculty tackle big questions from a range of perspectives in majors ranging from English to sociology. Many of our students choose interdisciplinary programs such as international affairs, or politics, philosophy and economics. Many also chose one of over fifty combined majors ranging from criminal justice and computer science, to English and design, to economics and math.
To learn more about our work in the Experiential Liberal Arts, our three areas of focus, and the mission of the CSSH, I invite you to follow CSSH Student Pathways; read the CSSH Strategic Plan; and explore our academic programs, research initiatives, and public engagement activities on the college’s website.