What are Impact Engines?

Impact Engines galvanize and organize interdisciplinary learning, research, and partnerships around solving a challenge or set of challenges, with the goal of maximum impact. Impact Engines span disciplines, colleges, campuses, and industry sectors, connecting diverse communities of problem-solvers around creating measurable change. They are a key pillar of the university’s academic plan, and a means for Northeastern to claim leadership as an institution with broad societal impact.

Why are they important?

A key pillar to Northeastern’s Academic Plan, Impact Engines emphasize seamless collaboration across multi-expertise, inclusive networks. Innovation emerges organically wherever challenges and research partnerships intersect. This lively ecosystem positions our faculty to work more productively with industry, government, and our local communities on the research that matters most.

Impact Engines, drawing upon Northeastern’s disciplinary strengths, are focal points for education, research, and entrepreneurship throughout our network. This will fully activate our humanics curriculum while ensuring the continuous integration of ideas, people, and experiences across our network.

What does a successful Impact Engine look like?

A successful Impact Engine focuses on a real-world problem. It may align around an entire global problem or focus on solving a contained, related issue. Impact Engines must aim to:

Impact Engines must address global challenges or societal needs, and make meaningful impact in people’s lives.

They must represent an area where we have existing strength with deep involvement from multiple interdisciplinary researchers and external partnerships.

Impact Engines must be a problem space where, with focused investment, Northeastern can become an impact leader.

Frequently asked questions

Who can propose an Impact Engine?

Impact Engines must be led by Northeastern Faculty, who act as PIs or Co-PIs. However, faculty from outside of Northeastern or individuals from outside higher education may serve as partners, with the goal of making the proposed Impact Engine more powerful. 

What kinds of projects will be considered?
  • Project ideas will be considered from any discipline, college or campus.  
  • Successful proposals include most of these features: 
    • Clearly describe a real-world problem and formulate a methodology to move the needle on solving that problem in under five years. 
    • Have clear milestones and metrics to measure impact on the problem. 
    • Be interdisciplinary and include faculty from two or more colleges or disciplines. 
    • Include demonstrated support from external partners or end-users (such as other academic institutions, non-profits, industry, community or governmental organizations). Additionally, proposals must describe how the proposed solution will be used by these external partners. 
    • Engage with students.
What kinds of things can be funded?
  • The Impact Engine budget covers faculty and staff time, equipment and research supplies, communications and marketing costs, and other miscellaneous costs to meet project objectives, including: 
    • Research or other non-tenure track faculty hiring, PI and faculty summer salary, PI and faculty course releases 
    • Salaries for postdocs, graduate students and co-ops 
    • Salaries for technicians, individual contributors, project and/or program management support, evaluation support 
    • Communication and marketing support 
    • Space, equipment and research supplies 
    • Travel 
    • Publication costs 
    • Seed grants 
    • Participant support, such as incentives
What is the expected size of an Impact Engine?
  • Teams should not focus on the size or total cost of the Impact Engine, but instead on the specific resources needed to address their problem statement.  

    Impact Engines are typically funded at one of two stages:  

    • Development Stage proposals require under $200,000 in resources and typically take less than 2 years to complete their milestones. 
    • Engine Stage proposals require more than $200,000 in resources and typically require 3-5 years to complete their milestones. 
What is the submission process like?

The Impact Engine Proposal process follows a cyclical timeline, with two application deadlines each calendar year. The Spring cycle deadline is February 20, 2024 and the Fall cycle deadline is September 16, 2024. We encourage all Northeastern University stakeholders with an Impact Engine idea to first discuss their idea with Amy Carroll, Vice Provost for Global Impact, before the deadline. Fill out this contact form to start the conversation.

Who is notified about the progress of Impact Engine proposals?
  • College Deans, Associate Deans of Research, Provost Office Leadership, andfor proposals that receive support from the Provost Office Leadership Committee—the University Senior Leadership Team. 
How do Impact Engines differ from institutes?
  • Like institutes, Impact Engines cut across traditional disciplines and indeed some Impact Engines may ultimately become institutes. However, while institutes represent mature areas of strength and leadership for the university, Impact Engines are nimbler and can split and merge, re-focus, and evolve in ways that were not originally imagined. In addition, Impact Engines must focus on a real-world problem or set of problems, rather than a scientific discipline or area of scholarship. 
Do colleges contribute to Impact Engine funding for lead faculty?
  • Non-tenure track (Research) faculty hires related to Impact Engines receive financial support from the Provost’s Office for three years at a decreasing rate. Tenure-track faculty hires are typically not part of Impact Engine proposals, however College Deans may choose to hire tenure-track faculty who work in the same field as the Impact Engine or may chose to grow a thematic area to align with an active Impact Engine. 
Are there milestones that need to be reached in order to receive additional funding?
  • Yes. Impact Engine proposals must articulate clear, measurable milestones. Progress against those milestones will be evaluated on a yearly basis and additional funding will be contingent on meeting them. 
When submitting grants, can Impact Engines be leveraged as established resources?
  • Yes. PIs are encouraged to seek external funding and to include these as revenue projections in their budgets.