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Northeastern students reflect on ‘amazing,’ ‘inspirational’ CGI U experience

Emily Mui, E'19, is one of more than 150 Northeastern students who participated in the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative University. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Emily Mui is quick to name her most meaningful experience at the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative University, which was held at Northeastern this past weekend. As part of a panel discussion titled “Designing a Meaningful Project,” Mui marveled at the story of Tiffany Pham, founder and CEO of Mogul, an online news aggregator and publishing platform for women. A few days later, she emailed the entrepreneur, asking to meet up to talk shop over tea. Pham said “yes” and the two plan to connect in New York in November.

Mui, a fourth-year industrial engineering major with a minor in studio art, wants to know Pham’s secret to her success. “Her story is really cool,” she said. “She studied at Harvard Business School at 21 and was working three jobs when she learned how to code in order to make a website giving millennial women a voice.”

Mui’s CGI U project—dubbed “Art, Soul, Tell”—aims to harness the power of art to help refugees in the U.S. take control of their own narrative. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Mui is one of more than 150 Northeastern students who participated in CGI U, which convened more than 1,200 students, thought leaders, and dignitaries from around the world to develop innovative solutions to global challenges in education, poverty alleviation, and other fields. The three-day event featured seminars, workshops, and panel discussions with former President Bill Clinton, Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun, and others. “It was really amazing to hear about all these fantastic projects,” said Mui. “I think it’s great that so many young people in the world are trying to make a difference.”

Her project—dubbed “Art, Soul, Tell”—aims to harness the power of art to help refugees in the U.S. take control of their own narratives. It’s in the theoretical stage of development right now, but Mui has already begun networking with people working with the local refugee community to gauge interest in the idea. As she explained, participating in CGI U solidified her passion for pursuing the project with vim and vigor. “It was definitely a reminder that I want to do this,” she said.

A new recipe for healthcare

Sophie Gong, a third-year sociology major with minors in human services and food sustainability, is working to make it easier for health practitioners to prescribe food as medicine. In partnership with the Northeastern alumni venture Fresh Truck—the farmers market on a bus—Gong is planning to create a flow chart to help healthcare providers, insurers, and retailers better understand their roles in providing food prescriptions for diet-related illnesses.

“Food prescriptions are gaining momentum,” she said, noting that Fresh Truck’s FoodRX program enables healthcare providers, schools, and other community organizations to purchase Fresh Truck gift cards for families in need. “But the lack of communication and awareness between the work that the different entities perform is hindering progress.” Hence the network map. As she put it, “There is currently no scalable resource for health practitioners to look to when hoping to provide food prescriptions.”

Sophie Gong, SSH’19, is working to make it easier for health practitioners to prescribe food as medicine. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

At CGI U, Gong networked with dozens of students from around the world who are working to solve similar problems in the nutrition and fitness sectors. Seeing their dedication to finding solutions to health-related challenges inspired her to work even harder to turn her project into a reality. “Networking with students was the biggest highlight for me,” she said. “They were so much more passionate than I ever could have imagined.”

Gong took a lot of notes over the weekend, especially during a skills session aimed at teaching students how to raise money for their projects. She felt a special kinship with panelist Karim Abouelnaga, founder and CEO of Practice Makes Perfect, a benefit corporation that partners with K-12 schools to deliver academic summer programs. “People walked the path I’m about to walk on,” said Gong. “Right now raising money is something I’m not comfortable with,” she added, “but I learned that if a [venture capitalist] is going to invest in your company, they’re really investing in you.”

‘The whole atmosphere was really collaborative’

Peyton Galloway, a second-year English major, exchanged business cards with dozens of CGI U students from around the world. “The whole atmosphere was really collaborative, with everyone exchanging tips,” she said. “Getting to meet so many people from so many different backgrounds was inspirational.”

Networking with her far-flung peers even compelled her and her collaborators—Kathryn Foster, S’21, and Anthony Wiryaman, CIS’20—to consider reshaping their CGI U commitment. Instead of creating a food-sharing service that would allow gardeners to trade their excess food among themselves, they’re now looking into the possibility of making the produce available to those without access to their own personal gardens. “We realized that it’s important to start small and work with the community to see what they need,” Galloway explained.

Her favorite working session—titled “Skills vs. Degrees”—focused on thriving in a rapidly evolving professional environment. Hearing from the likes of President Aoun, Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, and Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up, an urban youth development organization, made her realize that now is the perfect time for her to effect positive change in her community and beyond. “Just because I’m in college working on earning my degree doesn’t mean I can’t make an impact on the world in a big or small way,” she said. “As someone only in my second year, that was pretty inspiring.”