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SESP Leadership Institute

The School of Education and Social Policy Leadership Institute (SLI) is a Fall Quarter academic program that supports incoming first-years, transfers, and rising sophomores by using their histories and perspectives to help them thrive in their respective fields, at Northwestern, and beyond.

Students take two SESP core requirement classes, participate in a variety of leadership and team-building activities, and connect with professors, graduate students, and fellow undergraduates. The Institute also provides opportunities to get involved in a range of organizations and activities at Northwestern. 

Community is central to the SLI experience and each year look forward to social and cultural excursions in Evanston and Chicago. We also travel to Wisconsin for a weekend retreat and hold flexibility in the agenda for study time and homework.

Overall, by participating in the Institute, students will gain:

  • Academic credits and quality letter grades that fulfill two units of SESP undergraduate degree requirements
  • Lifetime connections with your cohort, your peer leaders, and SESP faculty and staff
  • Increased awareness of and comfort navigating various resources at Northwestern
  • Beloved community
  • Become part of a vast, dynamic SLI alumni community


The program offers an opportunity for students to grow as writers and leaders. Students enroll in two credits concurrently with one or two other Fall Quarter classes.

LOC 214-BR: Culture & Cognition – 1 Unit

This course introduces students to the theoretical foundations of research on culture and mind across a range of settings (schools, workplaces, family and community spaces) and consider the social, political and educational implications of the ways we conceptualize these terms. The goal of this course is to connect complex theoretical concepts and texts, students’ lived experiences, and transformative action in the world through interactive lectures, discussions, and feedback on written work. 

SESP 218: Leaders Lab – 1 Unit

The lab component is a series of student-directed reflections, discussions, activities, and workshops that emphasize various forms of leadership and change-making. In collaboration with faculty and teaching assistants, past participants who return as student leaders co-design the space to build community among the SLI cohort as students explore their backgrounds, identities, goals, and values together.

For a full description of the courses, please view the syllabus for the previous year:


The program is open to all rising first-year, second-year, and transfer students who are the first in their families to attend college and/or are from lower-income backgrounds. To participate, simply fill out the SLI 2024 interest form, which can be done in ten minutes, or email us at to start the process. Once you fill out the form, you will hear from a program coordinator, who will answer questions. Admission notifications will be sent out on a rolling basis.

Most of our participants have been enrolled in the School of Education and Social Policy, though students from almost all other Northwestern schools are welcome. If you are not enrolled in SESP, please talk with the SESP administrative team and your home school adviser about how the SLI course credits will apply to your degree requirements.

Program Leaders

Mesmin Destin

Faculty Director of Student Access and Enrichment; Associate Professor, Human Development and Social Policy; Associate Professor, Department of Psychology

Mesmin Destin's Faculty Page


Meet the rest of the SLI Team.