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Implementing the Undergraduate Student Lifecycle Initiative

Dear Members of the Northwestern Community,

We are excited to announce that we are starting to implement an initiative this fall that will directly benefit our undergraduates, particularly those who identify as first-generation, low-income and/or marginalized and underrepresented minority (URM) students. Northwestern upholds its pledge to foster a more diverse undergraduate student body in multiple ways, and in 2018 we notably admitted our first class composed of 20 percent Pell-eligible students two years ahead of schedule. As a result of this effort and others, Northwestern’s student demographics have shifted significantly over a short period of time, and the community has responded, actively working to bolster our services and support to match this growing segment of the University. 

As you know, Northwestern is committed to excellent teaching, innovative research and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse, inclusive and supportive academic environment. We believe that recognizing the strength in this community’s diversity is a central aspect of our students’ education and our University’s mission. Our top priority is to provide a safe learning and living environment where all students can thrive, especially those who have been historically underrepresented and often marginalized on our campus.

One major effort to champion this evolution has been the Undergraduate Student Lifecycle Initiative, a multi-phase program that the Provost has sponsored to develop a comprehensive strategy to support this group of students over the course of their time at Northwestern. We are starting to implement the Initiative this academic year, and we want to share some of our plans with you now. You can read more about the Undergraduate Student Lifecycle and its planning committee members here. A group of more than 50 faculty, staff and recent graduates served on the 2018-19 committee and gave their recommendations this summer. Among the plans we will begin to implement this fall are:

  • A coordinated, University-wide plan to better align programming on diversity, equity and inclusion across Northwestern schools and units, close any gaps, distribute information and design professional development programs for faculty and staff in support of this initiative
  • Establishment of a Community Scholars program that would provide comprehensive programming — including advising, resources, and community development — for a cohort of students from matriculation through graduation
  • Designation of a central, welcoming, and accessible physical space for students that becomes a hub for opportunities to build community and support, a place where faculty and staff have the opportunity to come together with students to support them
  • Increased and systematic support for mentoring, including, for example, a program that allows students to join faculty members for lunch on a regular basis to build mentoring relationships

These and other recommendations evolved from intense work by the Lifecycle Committee over the winter and spring of 2019. We want to extend our deep appreciation to the committee members for the thoughtful and exemplary work they did. The Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, and Vice President for Student Affairs jointly led the committee, which comprised three work groups that submitted recommendations. The Lifecycle Committee was charged with developing short- and long-term recommendations for change in three areas for action that the campus community identified as priorities in earlier work:

Faculty Engagement: strategy and resources to engage and equip faculty to serve a more diverse student body.

Navigating the University: improvements to the infrastructure and communication methods to inform students about available programs, services, financial resources, and other supports that empower and enable them to thrive.

Resources: Academic, Co-Curricular, and Community: programs and services that could meet the varied support needs of students who identify solely or jointly across first-generation, low-income, and marginalized and URM identities.

While the work groups convened independently, they jointly emerged with a set of recommendations that highlight common themes that will be addressed in the coming phase of implementation. They include opportunities to reduce complexity as a starting point for progress and a dedicated physical space as a catalyst to better build a more inclusive academic community.

A number of the recommendations offered complement those that other groups have generated, including the Black Student Experience Task Force (BSETF). For example, both the BSETF and the Lifecycle’s Faculty Engagement workgroup recommended diversifying the faculty through careful hiring practices.

The committee also recommended providing faculty incentives to reward contributions at the individual, department, school, and institutional levels; identifying steps to lower costs for these students; increasing communication with students before they matriculate; and expanding New Student & Family Programs and First-Year Experience programs.

In the coming weeks, we will be working with a team of leaders from the Provost’s office and across the University to define roles and expectations for implementation of these plans and to underscore that this is among the University’s highest priorities. In mid-October, we will charge this set of leaders to implement the recommendations, focusing on desired outcomes and actions in priority areas for 2019-20. We will be communicating with leadership and stakeholders around the University as we make progress on these important goals. We ask for your support and participation wherever you can make a difference for our students.