Rebecca Riccio, Director of the Social Impact Lab, was featured in the SAIL spotlight for her contributions!
“People often think of experiential learning as something that happens in parallel with classroom learning,” Rebecca Riccio said. “Experiential learning has been seen as a way for students to contextualize what they’ve learned in a traditional classroom setting. SAIL helps me flip that relationship so the academic content contextualizes students’ deeply visceral experience of the course.”
Last fall, Riccio was introduced to SAIL at a workshop during its early development and the idea immediately resonated. “For me,” Riccio said, “SAIL provides the institutional recognition of core learning dimensions and ‘soft skills’ that are essential for aspiring social change leaders.”
Riccio’s Journey to Academia
Riccio herself came into academia from a non-traditional background. “My first job out of grad school was managing the first federally-funded teacher training program in the former Soviet Republics and Eastern Bloc countries just after the Berlin Wall fell,” she said. At that time, the rapidly changing economic and political environment made meaningful academic exchange on English and civics teaching especially powerful.
That initial experience taught Riccio a lot about managing programs, including logistics, relationship building, and the importance of cultural agility, and equipped her with a toolkit for international program management. Riccio drew on her skills for a variety of complex international development endeavors, including her work with SatelLife in the 1990s—a non-profit focused on developing alternative electronic means of delivering health information to low-income countries. With the rapid emergence of the internet, SatelLife recognized that many struggling countries would become further disadvantaged by the digital divide.
In 2005, Riccio started her own consulting practice, writeCHANGE. “While consulting in this space, I was invited to develop a workshop for the Human Services Program at Northeastern,” Riccio said. Later, she was asked to develop a Human Services course and ultimately founded The Social Impact Lab. The lab empowers social change agents to think, work, and collaborate across sectors, disciplines, and generations to achieve greater impact in their communities and around the world.
Tackling Social Justice in the Classroom
“SAIL has made me feel more comfortable emphasizing competencies, skills, and attributes like perspective-taking, cultural agility, and humility within the context of an academically rigorous course,” Riccio said. “It’s liberating, because I believe that viewing them as part of our teaching mandate is not just valid, but ethically imperative.” SAIL provides educators with a framework and specific language to bring important skills like these concretely into the classroom and other learning environments.
The approach to teaching and learning that SAIL promotes offers what Riccio dubs a “magic space” where students can extract meaning from their experiences and reflect deeply upon how they relate to their academic, personal, and professional development.
SAIL in Action
SAIL’s framework, Riccio said, provides a means for the entire university to think about the holistic development of our students “and to celebrate them as lifelong learners and actors in a complex, globalized world.”
Riccio described her own approach to teaching as “experience-centered.” In her course, she teaches about social change through experiential philanthropy, providing both the opportunity and the responsibility for students to invest real dollars in the community while grappling with the social consequences of their decisions.
For Riccio, SAIL has transformed her approach to course design by providing a framework and language that facilitates students’ deliberate engagement in their own learning and provides her a new way to think about their learning outcomes. “I can hold myself accountable for providing the experiences, reflections, and content that will trigger new dimensions of learning about complex problem-solving and ethical community engagement.”