President of NEIU, Sharon Hahs, on Higher Education and Global Understanding

On April 17th, President of Northeastern Illinois University, Dr. Sharon Hahs, will be speaking at the Niagara Foundation on the role of higher education in fostering a global understanding. Specifically, she will explain what the benefits and challenges are in terms of this topic. She will be speaking broadly on the subject, but will use her experiences from Northeastern Illinois University as examples. As Northeastern is the most diverse public university in the Midwest, Dr. Hahs especially qualified to speak on the role of higher education in a more international perspective. You may register for the event here: 


By: Eleanor Peck, Director of Communications and Member Relations / Photo courtesy of

I spoke to Dr. Hahs on the phone last week to learn more about the topic she’ll be speaking about, as well as some more topics related to international higher education.

I asked her about how The United States is known internationally for high tuition rates, according to this study from the Institute of International Education and low math and science scores among developed nations, according to the the Program for International Student Assessment.

I asked Dr. Hahs how NEIU is combatting these issues. While public universities have a history of being far less expensive than private schools, because they’re supported by state funds, Dr. Hahs said “Northeastern’s gift is that we’re incredibly well managed, and we have a history of being well managed. So…we’re very cognizant of cost.” But, she added “We are below the state average in Illinois, but we are also located in Chicago, which costs money if you give your employees a fair wage, so we are constantly working with this tension.”

Dr. Hahs has a history as a scientist so she is especially aware of the United States falling behind in math and science, as well as low rates of women and minorities in the STEM fields. Dr. Hahs said, “The United States has a long history of attempting to address women in science. I was the only female chemistry major as an undergraduate, but all of that has changed. There’s a lot of work that’s been done in the academy.” Although it’s not an exactly even split, Dr. Hahs stated that Northeastern is fairly 50-50 in representation of men and women in the sciences. But, “I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, the work is not done.”

At this point, Northeastern is specifically more focused on getting minorities to achieve in science. Praising her faculty at NEIU, Dr. Hahs said Northeastern is getting more people interested in science through the Student Center for Science Engagement, a grant-funded project started by the science faculty, which is now self sustaining and is meant to increase participation of minority and low-income students in the sciences. NEIU is proud to have recently graduated minority and low-income students who have gone to PhD programs at leading universities around the country.

Lastly, I asked Dr. Hahs about the relationship NEIU has with Chicago – Does being in this city, which is marketing itself as a global city, impact the type of global education NEIU gives its students? Dr. Hahs first said, “of course, yes.” Chicago greatly impacts NEIU and the education it gives its students. Although she couldn’t help but add, “we’re even more special in Chicago than other universities” as NEIU is the most diverse public institution in the Midwest. “Chicago is critical in how NEIU has grown and thrived, but NEIU has reached out to local communities.

As Dr. Hahs likes to say, “We are grounded in our communities. In the ethnic, racial, cultural sense, as well as physical place.” NEIU has campuses around the city that are specifically meant to serve specific populations – living out their mission of preparing a diverse community of students for leadership and service in our region and in a dynamic multicultural world.

Come here Dr. Hahs speak about NEIU and the role of higher education in global understanding on April 17th here at the Niagara Foundation.


The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.