SPPUA in Action | November 2015
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Dear friends,
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to this issue of SPPUA in Action where we highlight one of our newest programs – M.S. in Urban Informatics (MSUI), which we launched in the spring and combines comprehensive data analytic skills with an understanding of the big questions 21st Century cities face.

In this issue, you get to know some of the students in the program including Antonio Vázquez Brust, who moved to Boston from Argentina on a Fulbright scholarship, and Ben Hoffman, who is managing a fulltime career alongside his studies at Northeastern.
We also give you a snapshot of an introductory class to the Urban Informatics program, which is built upon a unique cross-college initiative, offering comprehensive state-of-the-art training in core skills of data analytics and how data and technology are being used to tackle key social, infrastructural, and environmental challenges.
You hear from students who find themselves in very diverse classes with peers from other programs. Together, they develop a very broad knowledge base and rich network while collectively working on projects and tackling issues of shared concern. Through this organic interaction, students gain valuable real-world problem solving skills, which they then apply outside of class in the laboratory of cosmopolitan Boston.
Through their education, multidisciplinary teamwork, and solution-oriented research, the students are the next wave of urban professionals ready to lead in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Given the continuous growth in urban data and technology, they are essential to shaping the future of cities around the globe.
Matthias Ruth, Director and Professor, School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs

Get to Know 

Antonio Vázquez Brust, MS in Urban Informatics student on a Fulbright managed scholarship
Antonio Vásquez Brust had a successful career providing technology support and advice for nearly nine years. Yet he walked into an office on the 20th floor of IBM Argentina and nervously said, “I'm quitting,” leaving his boss dumbfounded, staring like deer in headlights.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Brust insisted after his boss demanded to know which company had recruited his stellar employee. 

Read more.
Watch Video
Ben Hoffman, MS in Urban Informatics part-time student, Connections Representative for Commercial Electrical Accounts, National Grid

"The Urban Informatics program is an opportunity for me to incorporate my personal and professional goals in life. I am fascinated with subjects such as science, culture, social justice, quality of life, and environmental health. The public policy portion of the program allows me to learn about making the workings of a city and how to make a positive contribution. The informatics portion enables me to inform policy decisions with facts and is also desirable in the job market."

Read more

In the Classroom: Introducing students to comprehensive datasets

The first time Sarah Plowman, a second-year graduate student, set eyes on a detailed dataset of Boston zoning clearances, she said she felt blind. The computer screen was right in front of her face, but she didn’t see anything.
“I don’t know how to interpret what I’m seeing,” said Plowman, a student in Big Data for Cities, a class taught by Assistant Professor Daniel T. O’Brien. “Every week we learn a few new tools to communicate with the program so I feel I can see a little bit more what’s actually there.”
Read more.

Meet our Advisory Committee 

When Professor Barry Bluestone asked Robert Beal to join the then Dukakis Center Advisory Board about 10 years ago, Beal said he jumped right in because the Center’s strong commitment to create more housing was evident.
“Between what Mike Dukakis and Barry were doing, I said, ‘I’d love to help,’” Beal recalled.
When the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs was founded in 2008, the Dukakis Advisory Board became the School’s Advisory Committee and Beal agreed to lead the expanded effort. Read more.

Q&A with Professor Dietmar Offenhuber: Examining visual representations and urban governance

Dietmar Offenhuber’s research could be described as accountability design – focusing on the relationship between visual representations and urban governance.
Offenhuber, an assistant professor of public policy, art and design, traveled to Manila, Philippines, during the summer to explore in-depth the city’s electricity grid and street lighting system.
He is in the process of writing a paper about his project, “Manila Improstructure,” which was released in early September, but he took a break from his keyboard and computer to chat with us about his findings and how he is encouraging students to undertake similar projects. 

Read more.

Guest Column: 3 tips on becoming an urban planning professional

With Ashley Nicole McCulley, MURP alum, City Planner, City of Kenmore, Wash., Department of Community Development
1. Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to connect to both your community and to the field you’re working in. Nonprofits and governmental agencies always need extra hands, whether it’s for a long-term project or a one-off event. Be on the lookout for events or fundraisers in the community or at work, and offer your services.
2. Seek outside learning opportunities. Nobody’s professional career is ever complete. We can always learn more and be better.  

Read more

Student News

Graduate student and former Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy research assistant Lauren Costello is currently on exchange at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She is sharing her wonderful experiences with us through her weekly blog, 6 Hours Ahead.

Faculty Focus

Assistant Professor Daniel O’Brien has been appointed to the Steering Committee for the MetroLab Network, in his capacity as research director for the Boston Area Research Initiative.

“My hope is that the MetroLab Network will catalyze learning and collaboration between city-university partnerships across the country, and to accelerate the field as a whole,” O’Brien said. “This promises to advance the great work that is ongoing in Boston, enabling us to share insights and projects with colleagues in other cities." Read more.

Timothy Hoff, professor of management, healthcare systems, and health policy, was recently chosen to serve as the Patrick F. and Helen C. Walsh research professor in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business from 2015 through 2017. The Walsh Professorship is designed to encourage research as well as the dissemination of research results on issues critical to the management of corporations and other institutions, and it provides recipients with additional support to conduct innovative research in their fields of study. Read more.

Matthias Ruth, director of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, has edited a book, Handbook of Research Methods and Applications in Environmental Studies, which showcases ways to advance the understanding of interdependencies between the well-being of human societies and the performance of their biophysical environment. 

“This book was motivated by the observation that environmental studies draw on the life and the social sciences, and to do it well requires knowledge in both these areas,” Ruth said. “Yet, most books heavily lean in one direction or another, are either conceptual or overly case-based.” Read more.

Gov. Charlie Baker has appointed Alicia Sasser Modestino, associate director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy and associate professor of economics, public policy and urban affairs, to the board of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP), a statewide public non-profit affordable housing organization that works in concert with Baker and the state Department of Housing and Community Development to help increase the supply of affordable housing in Massachusetts. She was sworn into the board on Thursday, Oct. 15, at the State House. Read more.

Stephen Flynn, SPPUA affiliate professor and director of the Center for Resilience Studies, testified at a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 27, on the “Prevention of and Response to the Arrival of a Dirty Bomb at a U.S. Port.”  

“The national security and economic stakes associated with a dirty bomb attack being set off a port city like Boston or Los Angeles could not be higher,” Flynn said. “It is therefore vital that U.S. programs that aim to safeguard the maritime transportation system from the risks associated with weapons proliferation and terrorism continue to receive the kind of congressional oversight this subcommittee provided in this hearing.” Read more.

In the Media

The faculty and staff at the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs continue to be reliable sources of expertise on current pressing issues. Click here for a list of articles during the month of October that reference our knowledgeable staff and their research.

Quote of the Month

Upcoming Events

RISE Framework for Social Change will be held on Nov. 10, 6:30-8 p.m., at SPPUA’s Social Impact Lab, 310 Renaissance Park. Founding Director Rebecca Riccio will explain the RISE Framework, which has been used by thousands of students to award $250,000 to nonprofits across the U.S., and help you apply it to your favorite social change organization. Light refreshments will be served.

The Myra Kraft Open Classroom, a free semester-long seminar series for graduate students and ordinary citizens alike, is well underway. This fall, the course is entirely devoted to closely examining the extraordinary transformative decade of the 1960s, from the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 to landing on the moon in 1969. Together with invited experts, we explore the politics, economics and social movements of the decade, celebrate music, art, media, and film, and we draw connections to the many transformations underway today. Classes are held on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. in West Village F, room 20. Visit our website for the course schedule, directions and materials from past sessions. We’re live streaming every session on our YouTube channel. Tell us what you think by using #OCNEU and #SPPUA on social media sites.

Join us for “Lives in Law and Public Policy,” an annual speaker series that allows members of the Northeastern community to meet leading figures in the law and policy arena.

This year’s lineup includes:
  • Joanne Goldstein, Massachusetts Labor Secretary, on Nov. 5;
  • Eric Lesser, current Massachusetts State Senator, on Nov. 12.
Join us on Thursdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at 310 Renaissance Park. We’re live streaming every session on our YouTube channel.

SPPUA Detective – Do you know where this is?

If you know the answer, send your name and location of the subject in the photo to Your name will appear in the forthcoming newsletter! Do you have what it takes to become a detective and stump the SPPUA community? We are looking for mystery photo submissions for the SPPUA Detective series. Email your photos to Be sure to include the location of the image in the photograph. 

The Northeastern Way

Our graduate policy programs create leaders through experiential learning, research and education.


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Northeastern University School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs · 310 Renaissance Park · Boston, MA 02115 · USA

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