North Star Courses and Experiences

Our North Star

Case Western Reserve is a high-impact research university that aspires to be a community where humanity, science and technology meet to create a just and thriving world.

About North Star Courses and Experiences

Given the current public health crises of a viral pandemic and structural racism, these courses and experiences will focus exclusively on the locale and assets of University Circle and Cleveland, as well as the related challenges and problems unique to our city and region.  At the heart of the recommendation is an interest in helping students return to campus and engage in a purposeful set of activities unique to our time but also to help them personally re-connect with each other, with faculty and staff, and with businesses and residents of our neighboring community while following public health guidelines.

In order to implement this idea quickly yet substantively, a small group of faculty and staff devised the following guiding principles, examples, and procedures to encourage development of North Star Courses and Experiences.  

Guiding Principles

North Star activities should:

  1. Focus on CLE or on-campus experiences. While not required for the entire course or experience, some components should take into account physical “place”.
  2. Be framed in short time bursts. In order to allow for unexpected changes with the pandemic, proposed learning and activities should be considered in 2-4 week increments.  They may or may not begin on the first day of classes, but could be introduced later in the semester.
  3. Take into account health and safety protocols. This includes social distance guidelines, low-density activities, masking requirements, and other mandated public health steps. 
  4. Show connection to the University’s strategic plan, Think Big. The North Star experiences are embedded in one or more elements of the Think Big strategic plan, where there are pathways dedicated to interdisciplinary activity, human/technology interfaces, community and external social impact, and the success of all people.


Examples of topics will vary, from those digging deeply into issues of structural and systemic racism in Cleveland and the politics of health care in Ohio, to challenges in the environment as it impacts the urban footprint and the history of University Circle and its neighborhoods. The possibilities are vast. See specific examples below.

We wish to provide maximum flexibility for those designing activities, but examples of types of experiences that might be offered include:

  • A credit-bearing activity associated with an existing course. This represents existing 3-credit courses that can be enhanced through the addition of a one-credit North Star activity. This additional credit could be available to students outside of the parent course, if of interest by the faculty member. 
  • A credit-bearing activity akin to independent study. This represents the ability for students to select an activity that may or may not be tied to an existing course, yet can be extended into a full independent study for credit.  
  • Adjustment of existing course content to a North Star topic.This could include courses such as CSE’s ENGR 398, which has different topics depending on the instructor. 
  • Using North Star courses as a substitute for curricular requirements, e.g. in engineering using ENGR 395: Community Engaged Project Design (1 cr.) as a temporary replacement for ENGR 398 (1 cr.), with consideration of re-considering pre-requisite courses or identifying required skills outside of course prerequisites so non-majors can join.
  • A stand-alone credentialed activity. This would not be a course, but an organized experience ranging from 2-4 weeks in length, with participation resulting in students receiving a range of possible credentials, from a badge to a micro-credential--all able to be included on a student resume.
  • A series of activities leading to a micro-credential. This may involve a series of activities--from lectures to workshops to hands-on activities--that collectively leads to a credential to be included on a student resume.
  • A student-led experience. A group of students could propose a topic to study as a group on their own, with a faculty member moderating the experience. The students would be the primary drivers and evaluators. 
  • Faculty-led mentoring lunches, outdoor walks. These experiences may be singular activities or composed of regularly scheduled events that are intentional in purpose and designed to bring students and faculty around topics of mutual interest and curiosity, with no boundaries to disciplines or departmental structures.
  • Other creative options that you may propose!

Next Steps

The proposal period is now closed. During the week of August 17, the list of activities will be posted for students to sign up for the experience. Finalized assignments will be made on or around August 24. 

Faculty who are interested in assisting students with their student-led projects are encouraged to email


For additional questions, please send an email to Questions and answers will posted to our North Star FAQs page.

North Star FAQs