Kim Irmiter: Choosing a Major With SAIL

SAIL’s earliest adopters are students in Northeastern’s Explore program: first-years who haven’t yet chosen a major. For these students, about 400 per year, “SAIL comes naturally,” says program director Kim Irmiter, who began piloting SAIL in 2016.

To Explore’s students, SAIL comes naturally. They’re already thinking hard about their interests and strengths.

One reason Explore students take so easily to SAIL is that, like Explore, it’s all about developing along dimensions—including personal and professional growth—that are fundamental to shaping their identity and focus. “Our students are already thinking hard about their interests and strengths,” Irmiter says. “They’re very intentional about charting not only their academic path, but also experiential opportunities and co-curriculars.”

Another reason Explore students readily grasp SAIL is that SAIL’s five learning dimensions and vocabulary are built into the Explore curriculum. Once students grasp the basics, they’re introduced to the SAIL app, too.

During Explore’s required seminar course, “Connections and Decisions,” students develop a strategic plan for coursework they’ll sample. From the start, they’re asked to practice a key goal of SAIL called knowledge transfer by thinking about a skill they acquired in the past, and then reflecting on how they’ve applied it subsequently, in entirely new situations. Later, in oral class presentations, they share their 360 “honeycomb” visualization and SAIL “moments,” insights they consider relevant to their academic and career explorations.

In written reflections, students consider how their skills, values, interests, and personalities connect to those explorations. They ponder obstacles and setbacks, successes and eureka moments, and experiences with clubs, sports, Alternative Spring Break, and other activities that build attributes from self-advocacy to leadership.

Finally, each student drafts a “Major Exploration” plan. Filtered through SAIL’s learning framework, these plans are “thoughtful and purposeful,” Irmiter says, designed to uncover strengths and room for growth as they develop their personal blueprints for academic and experiential engagement.

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