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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. 

Apply Today

If you believe you are eligible for SLI and are interested in participating, please fill out the SLI 2024 interest form here.   Admission notifications will be sent out on a rolling basis. 

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Am I eligible to participate in SLI?

SLI 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. 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. 

When is SLI 2024?

SLI 2024 will take place during Fall Quarter. Previously, SLI was held before school started, but the pandemic shifted our schedule. Participants enroll in the two-credit SLI course during Fall Quarter registration. For returning and transfer students, this occurs in mid-to-late May; for first-year students, registration is during Wildcat Welcome in September, shortly before the Fall Quarter begins.

Is SLI a regular class?

SLI 2024 will run the full length of an academic quarter. You will enroll in two credits: LOC 214-BR: Culture & Cognition, and SESP 218: Leaders Lab. You will take these credits concurrently with one or two other Fall Quarter classes. Undergraduate peer leaders (past SLI participants), graduate teaching assistants, the program coordinator, and the alumni community support you through the experience.

What will the academic portion of SLI look like?

The academic portion of SLI 2024 fundamentally resembles two regular classes, but it has additional benefits. No other classroom on campus will offer the community, writing feedback and support, and deep academic engagement with like-minded peers and faculty. In the Culture and Cognition class ( LOC 214-BRcheck out a previous syllabus of the course here ), students learn about critical theory and discuss how their life experiences and narratives shape who they are. The homework is very reading- and writing-intensive. The Leaders Lab component of SLI ( SESP 218see previous syllabus here) is a series of peer-led workshops that focus on identity development, navigating Northwestern, community organizing and community building, and more.

What other activities will I participate in during SLI 2024

We plan to host in-person class sessions and co-curricular community activities. Community is important in SLI and we are looking forward to social and cultural excursions in Evanston and Chicago that will help us get to know each other. We travel to Wisconsin for a weekend retreat and hold flexibility in the agenda for study time and homework. Past activities have also included spending time with new friends in the residence halls and dining together on and off-campus. 

What will I get out of SLI 2024?

  • 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
  • So much love

I'm interested in applying! What do I do now?

Simply fill out the SLI 2024 interest form, which can be done in ten minutes, or email us at  to start the process.

Fall 2024 course registration will take place in mid-to-late May for returning and transfer students, and in early September for new first-years. Once you fill out the form, you will hear from Vanessa Magallanes, SLI graduate assistant extraordinaire, and a program coordinator, who will answer questions and connect you to a peer leader.

If you believe you are eligible for SLI and are interested in applying, please still fill out the interest form!

Additional questions?

For questions or more information about the SESP Leadership Institute, please email us at