Category Archives: Students

Students Present Innovative Global Health Solutions in Competition

Global Health Case Competition

Eight teams of undergraduate and graduate students participated in Northwestern University’s first Global Health Case Competition Saturday, Feb. 15, each giving a 15-minute presentation on how to decrease pneumonia-related deaths in newborn to 5-year-old children in Uganda. Medill junior Emily Drewry (far left) shared her experience of being part of the team that won the competition. Her team received a $1,000 award and will represent Northwestern at the Emory competition in March.

The competition was modeled after a similar event held annually at Emory University and organized by Kate Klein, a masters of public health student and assistant director of the Program of African Studies at Northwestern. Through the process, students are given the opportunity to engage with individuals in other fields, all toward the common goal of realistic experience in understanding global health interventions.

For the week leading up to the competition, 40 undergraduate and graduate students, split into teams that represented three Northwestern schools, got to know the details of our case, preparing to impress the judges with a solution that aimed to be innovative, realistic and, overall, successful. I was thrilled to be participating in the event—I am constantly trying to make the most of every experience I come across at Northwestern, and this competition seemed to offer the perfect mix of challenge and insight that I couldn’t pass up.

The work that went into creating our presentation certainly wasn’t easy and was even exasperating at times. But it was real, perhaps the most real opportunity I’ve had since coming to Northwestern.

When we filed into Harris L08 on Saturday morning, with a completed case and hours of waiting ahead, I was able to reflect on the experience as a whole. I was terrified to present to the judges—these three women are professionals at UNICEF and USAID and are the people we all aspire to be. How could we possibly impress them? In retrospect, the reason I was afraid to present was the very same reason I needed to embrace the experience, and the reason I am so grateful to Northwestern for giving us this opportunity.

As I spoke with a peer early on in the day, I expressed that I was intimidated by how established many of the participants were. “But here’s the thing,” she responded. “We know so much.” My first inclination was to disagree, but then it dawned on me. We as individuals know what we have learned in our three or four years at this incredible institution—but we as teams know so much more.

I could not have asked for a better result. I am so honored to be a part of the team that will be representing Northwestern at the Emory competition next month. But beyond the results of the competition was a bigger success. It took the form of a life lesson I won’t be forgetting for a long time.

The theme of the weekend wasn’t competition. It was collaboration. Though our goal was to create a viable situation, the work each participant put into the weekend was reciprocated two-fold in opportunity. We put an incredible amount of time into the case itself, learning about pneumonia, Uganda and past public health efforts. I am so proud of the final result my team presented to the judges, but I am prouder of the comfort I now feel, knowing that so many talented individuals out there will one day be presenting these solutions to real donors and make real impacts.

In his closing remarks, Michael Diamond stressed the same point that I had arrived at by the end of the day. “Collaboration,” he said, “as we all know, does not come easily.”

Neither do the solutions to global health problems. But, after this weekend, I am confident that members of the eight participating teams will be part of the movements that, with dedicated efforts and innovative ideas, will go on to change the world.

A huge thank you goes out to Program in African Studies, Office for International Program Development, the Buffett Center and the Center for Global Health for sponsoring the event, as well as to Noelle Sullivan and my teammates for being incredibly patient and supportive throughout the weekend.

The winning team, consisted of Suvai Gunasekaran and Smitha Sarma, Emily Drewry from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, and Grace Jaworski and Pooja Garg from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Suvai, Smitha, Emily, and Pooja will head to Atlanta in March to compete with students from 24 other universities.

Bringing TEDx to Northwestern

Nikita Ramanujam, a junior double majoring in learning and organizational change and French horn performance, is the student organizer of TEDx NorthwesternU 2014. Read about why she wanted to host the “genius talks” event at NU and how you can get involved. The event is scheduled for April 12 in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum.

This summer while interning in Boston, I watched A LOT of TED talks. They were my way of keeping grounded and staying inspired. I noticed many of these talks were taking place at universities and I wondered why Northwestern didn’t have a TEDx event. Over the past two years at NU, I had heard some of the most insightful, educated and brave thoughts coming from my peers and professors. We’re a world-renowned institution and our alumni are some of the most recognized across a variety of fields and disciplines. As the TED Talks slogan says, Northwestern definitely has ideas worth spreading.

I submitted an application last July and on Sept. 23 I received a phone call informing me that my license had been approved. From there I began to search for a faculty advisor and a student executive board. I came across Michele Weldon, the director of the Public Voices Fellowship and assistant professor emerita in Medill. We selected our executive board from over 55 student applicants and began planning TEDx NorthwesternU 2014. I’ve been so fortunate to meet some of the most qualified, passionate, and humbling people at Northwestern through this experience. I’m constantly learning from them, and it’s already been such a wonderful journey.

Together we hope to provide a platform for ideas to be heard and passions to be shared. This is going to be an event that unites our community and we truly can’t wait. We will be featuring nine speakers: three students, three faculty members and three alumni. Applicants can submit a one minute video with a description of their talk on our website by January 15, 11:59 PM. Applicants will be notified by February 1st.

Cool ‘Cats: Michael Payant (Medill ’16)

My name is Michael Payant and I am a Northwestern Wildcat superfan.

There was no single defining moment which inspired my fandom, no single event which served as the catalyst for my love of the Wildcats. Instead, it was a lifetime of little things which built up to make me the man and the fan I am today.

My parents shaped my love of sport. By encouraging me to play and joining me to watch sports, they made me happy, and in retrospect, shaped my personality.

My mom, Susan Cohodes, attended the Medill School of Journalism from 1979-83. She was here for the lowest of lows, when the ‘Cats set the major college football losing streak record at 34 games, yet still loved her time here enough to raise me to bleed purple and white. Despite the fact that I was born and raised in Seattle, Wash., my earliest “college visits” were to Northwestern to watch football games and meet some of Mom’s college friends who still live in the Chicago area.

Stories of NU teams’ exploits were common as my sister and I grew up.

I heard about the 1981 “Stop State at 28” campaign and the subsequent “Laking of the Posts” when the ‘Cats lost their 29th consecutive game. I became acquainted at a young age with Northwestern’s lack of NCAA tournament appearances in basketball. When Northwestern traveled to Seattle to take on the University of Washington in the NIT Tournament a couple years ago, I was right behind the NU bench, cheering my heart out as the ‘Cats fell 76-55. For the sports fan in me, these stories served not to dissuade my NU fandom, but to reinforce the notion that the team and the school never give up.

The stories weren’t all negative either.

Though I was too young to remember it, the ‘Cats 1996 Rose Bowl appearance has been commemorated by the pennant which once rested on my bedroom wall and is now displayed prominently in my dorm. For much of the time I’ve been a coherent fan, the football team has met or exceeded respectability under Pat Fitzgerald. John Shurna’s tenure with the basketball team will not be soon forgotten, and under Chris Collins, hope springs eternal that this NU Era will be a good one.

Being a Northwestern fan is not always easy. I could list the heartbreaking defeats the football team has suffered in the last two years alone, but this is still a little too sensitive a topic. On the other side, as ‘Cats across the country know, for this team, every win is exhilarating.

When I was younger, I believed my cheering determined whether the team won or lost. I still approach every game I attend with this mindset, and it is for our school and our team that I am a fan. I take pride in knowing I have given the team everything I have, and win or lose, I am a Wildcat until the bitter end.

Student Groups Raising Funds to Offer ‘Hope After Haiyan’

Hope After Haiyan

A message from the organizers of “Hope After Haiyan”:

As the pictures kept flowing in and the damage kept stacking up from Typhoon Haiyan, the first question on our minds was: “Are all of our relatives and friends OK?”

From Kellogg students who grew up in the Philippines to undergraduates who are second- and third-generation immigrants, we were all frustrated and saddened to see that yet another storm had ravaged the country that we all hold so fondly in our hearts. While many in the central regions of the Philippines were killed and even more were displaced from their homes by the wreckage, fortunately almost all of our families and friends were either not in the path of the storm or are fortunate enough to be safe, sound and accounted for. Which brought us to the next and equally important question: “How do we help?”

We’re proud and excited to announce our answer to the call: Hope After Haiyan. With support from Kaibigan (Northwestern’s undergraduate Filipino student organization), the Kellogg Southeast Asian Club, Kellogg Cares (Kellogg’s philanthropic student group), the NU Asian-Pacific American Coalition, the NU Conference on Human Rights, and the NU Muslim-Cultural Students Association, our goal is to raise $20,000 for Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts over the next two weeks to go toward water, shelter, supply and food kits for affected victims through Catholic Relief Services (which provides aid to all victims without regard to religion).

We must respond in this time of crisis, and hope that our fellow Wildcats will support us in this extremely urgent venture. Our on-campus event outreach will begin with donation tables at Norris this Thursday and Friday, and will extend through winter quarter as we innovate new ways to bring the NU community together to support the Philippines. Please consider donating through our website at and supporting our fundraising efforts through the end of this quarter as well as next quarter.

Maraming salamat (thank you so much) for your help. Let’s prove to the world that there is Hope After Haiyan.

Mentoring Youth by Making Science Fun

Junior Science ClubFour years ago, Northwestern University graduate students Julianne Hatfield and Stephanie Rangel began volunteering with Science Club, an after-school science education initiative for underprivileged youth. The club has been run since 2009 by Science in Society, Northwestern’s science outreach and public engagement program. Given their positive experience with Science Club, Hatfield and Rangel launched Junior Science Club last summer, a new branch of the program serving 4th to 6th graders in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood that meets after school twice a month. Hatfield and Rangel reflect on how these volunteer teaching opportunities have perfectly coalesced with their Ph.D. programs and inspired their students to be more engaged in learning about science.

We are in a room filled with 15 buzzing elementary school students trying to isolate DNA from strawberries. We are teaching them about biology as part of an after-school program we recently started. But we aren’t elementary school teachers; we are Ph.D. biomedical research students at Northwestern University. So how did we end up here?

After four years of refining our teaching and mentoring skills, we wanted to take our involvement to the next level and deepen our knowledge of how to develop a science outreach program. Science in Society program director Michael Kennedy and assistant director Rebecca Daugherty offered us the opportunity to create a Junior Science Club program for 4th-6th grade students at General Wood Boys & Girls Club of Chicago (BGCC) in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago.

In addition to the strawberry DNA experiments, the students at our new club have been chemists creating baking soda-vinegar explosions and engineers designing bridges out of drinking straws. For each lesson, we focus on one key aspect of the scientific method, such as forming a hypothesis, identifying a variable or analyzing data.

So far we have had the privilege to meet and work with more than 40 students at General Wood BGCC. As the weeks go on, we are excited to see students arrive earlier and earlier for the start of Science Club. One very bright 4th-grade student, Emily, whom we met during the summer months, would arrive in the Science Club room the moment we walked through the door so she could help us set up that day’s lesson and ask us questions about being scientists. These unique, personal bonds that we form with individual students make this type of outreach work extremely rewarding, and we are excited to see the program grow and expand to include more students like Emily.

Adopting Northwestern University’s ideals of connecting with our community and extending our training experiences beyond the lab, we originally joined Science in Society’s Science Club program in 2009. Developed in partnership with Northwestern, Chicago Public Schools teachers and the BGCC, the program’s broad mission is to inspire underprivileged Chicago youth to learn scientific skills and pursue science and engineering careers.

As Science Club mentors, the training and professional development we received was broad—covering topics such as science communication, teaching, program development, evaluation and even writing grants. Being in Science Club almost since its inception, we were able to see how the program grew and flourished. And we were proud to share in Science Club’s recent 2013 Afterschool STEM Impact Award.

In addition to the amazing impacts on youth, neither one of us realized how just three hours a week in Science Club would benefit our research. Mentoring elementary and middle school students is a crash course on effective science communication. These skills translate to many aspects of our Ph.D.s, including data presentations in informal and formal settings, working with collaborators and training new lab members. Teaching students critical thinking skills has strengthened our own skills, which translates to the lab bench. Additionally, being a mentor in Science Club has reinvigorated our love of science (something that can get clouded in the day-to-day motions of Ph.D. work). Our Science Club experiences have unquestionably contributed to our success as Ph.D. students.

As we approach our final year as graduate students, we have begun focusing on our futures. Since starting the Junior Science Club program, we have taken on full roles in curriculum design and execution. This has allowed us to learn the philosophy behind developing hypothesis-driven curriculum that can translate to teaching at any level—elementary or college courses. In addition, we had the opportunity to attend the National Institutes of Health SciEd Conference, which highlights other programs funded through Science Education Partnerships Awards (like Science Club). This opened our eyes to a whole world of informal STEM education careers, as well as the opportunity to meet people at the forefront of the field. These opportunities have allowed us to build our teaching portfolios and gain leadership experience in preparation for careers in science education and outreach.

Science Club has shown us that the Ph.D. track at Northwestern can be so much more than just research. Helping the underserved youth of Chicago has been extremely rewarding and has allowed us to show students that the scientific method can be applied in many different situations, not just when they are isolating strawberry DNA.