Mills faculty and staff look forward to experiential learning

OAKLAND, Calif.—Before Hellen Walter graduated from high school in her native England, she was accepted to some of the most prestigious colleges in the United Kingdom. But she chose to enroll at Coventry University.

Why? Because it required undergraduates to spend a full year working in the industry of their choice before graduating.

“Looking back, that was Northeastern’s model of success,” says Walter, comparing Coventry’s program two decades ago to Northeastern’s century-old cooperative experiential learning program.

Helen Walter, Visiting Associate Professor of Biology at Mills College, poses for a portrait. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

Walter’s decision paid off when she applied for her first job after graduation. “I was against someone who went to a much more prestigious university,” she says. “They had a much higher grade point average and a first-class honors degree, but they hired me because I had that experience.”

Fast forward to today and Walter is now a visiting associate professor of biology at Mills College, which is set to officially merge with Northeastern on July 1.

Starting a cooperative learning program at Mills had been on the agenda for decades, but that’s where it stopped, says Walter.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this here at Mills,” says Walter, who arrived on the Oakland campus as an adjunct professor in 2005. “We talked about it many times, but we didn’t. just don’t have the resources to be able to do it.

Kate Karniouchina, dean of the Lokey School of Business and Public Policy at Mills College, poses for a portrait. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

Walter knows that it takes industry connections – and lots of them – to make experiential learning successful. And Northeastern has built those relationships over the past century, she says.

“It’s not something you can just do, ‘boom,’ and it’s going to happen,” Walter says. “So this part of the northeast is so exciting to finally have the opportunity to get my students through.”

Experiential learning is not common at West Coast colleges, according to Walter, who believes the promise of Northeastern’s co-op program will draw students from California and beyond to Mills.

“That’s something that’s not really a strength here in the Bay Area,” Walter says. “And yet we are in this place where we have many research labs that are always looking for people. We have so many biotech companies and other companies that are really looking for people to mentor. »

The Betty Irene Moore Natural Sciences Building on the Mills Campus is an impressive 26,000 square foot facility built with sustainable design strategies. The first LEED platinum building in Oakland, it features an inviting lobby, exhibit space, spacious outdoor courtyard, and modern classrooms and labs.

It is here that Walter conducts research on topics such as vaccines, cerebrospinal injury and alcohol addiction. It is also home to the Hellman Summer Science and Math program, led by Walter.

But she believes her students deserve better. And all of this is not on the Mills campus.

“We see the benefit of placing students in our own research labs and working with them individually,” says Walter. “But having these opportunities in a different lab than ours. It’s going to be really powerful.

Walter admits that she didn’t fully enjoy her experience in the industry as an undergrad, until that first job offer.

“I don’t think they’ll necessarily appreciate it when they first get into it. I’m sure not,” says Walter. “But when you come out of that experience, you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. That’s why we do it!”

Kate Karniouchina is associate professor of business at Mills and dean of the Lokey School of Business and Public Policy. She loves the Oakland campus, its diverse student body, and its research. Karniouchina hopes the Mills-Northeastern merger will allow it to do more of the latter. So far, so good.

“I’ve been blown away by the research support I’ve already received from Northeastern,” she says. “We haven’t even officially merged yet, but we have already applied for a few grants. And we are exploring all kinds of collaborations.

In the past, Karniouchina typically teamed up with professors at top schools, such as Rutgers and the University of Utah, just to gain access to resources like databases and fast computers. Those days are over, she says.

“I’m excited about the expansion of the group of colleagues we’ll have,” says Karniouchina, who described the atmosphere on the Oakland campus as “forward-thinking.”

“There is a certain nervousness, but also a lot of excitement,” she says.

You can add Kellie Kendrick to the list of Mills faculty and staff who are excited about the merger. She was born and raised in East Bay, came to Mills as a wide-eyed 18-year-old freshman and never left. Seventeen years later, she is Director of Technology Support Services and Technology Training.

At the forefront of the college’s infrastructure needs, Kendrick watched firsthand as a curious employee and proud alumnus the realization of the Mills-Northeastern partnership. Prior to that, she participated in conversations Mills had with other colleges, but it wasn’t the same, she says.

“It was very different from the first day of discussions with Northeastern,” Kendrick explains. “We have never been an acquisition. I never felt like they were just going to replace you and do their own thing.

Kendrick’s colleague, Diana Martinez, has been Mills’ assistant director of admissions for three years. She is originally from Southern California, grew up in Oregon and attended Mount Holyoke, a historically women-only college in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

She was raised by a single mother, a college sociology professor, and has lived in Oakland for three years. She is a champion of diversity and was thrilled when Northeastern chose her to serve on the selection committee for its Torch Scholars program, which benefits first-generation students from diverse backgrounds.

“The nominations were so inspiring,” says Martinez. “I’m very happy that Northeastern is doing its part and I was able to participate in this program.”

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