When Nader Yacaman Juha was growing up in Honduras, he spent a lot of time walking around a hospital with his grandfather, who was a doctor there. Juha saw patients lying in hospital beds and realized how fortunate he was to be healthy. That feeling stayed with him and shaped his path through college.
Juha graduated from Northeastern Friday with a Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering. He was one of a handful of students President Joseph E. Aoun mentioned in his speech at Commencement.
Though Juha is a newly minted graduate, he has already started using his skills and education to help others. During a co-op at the Michael J. and Ann Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship Education at Northeastern, Juha started a company called IC Health, which aims to provide low-cost healthcare to people in Central America.
Juha knew he wanted to help Hondurans live healthier lives. To better understand their needs, he traveled back to his home country and started talking to people. He learned that one out of every eight Hondurans is diagnosed with diabetes.
“It’s a condition you have to stay on top of. If you don’t, it will consume you,” Juha said. “But that proactivity is something you need both energy and money for.”
Juha found that many diabetics in Honduras were failing to monitor their glucose levels — an important indicator of health for people with the disease. The patients he spoke with didn’t have money for a colorimeter, the device used to measure glucose from a drop of blood.
Juha used his engineering background to devise a plan to solve the problem. He formed a partnership with a company that makes colorimeters to design a new prototype that was simpler and less expensive than traditional devices. The new design employed only features that patients in Honduras needed — those that were vital for measuring glucose. Juha then tested the product with diabetes patients. And they were satisfied — with the ease of use and the price.
Currently, 20 people in Honduras are testing the device. Now that he’s graduated, Juha plans to work full time to grow IC Health. Driven by the memories of suffering he saw with his grandfather, and equipped with a Northeastern education, Juha is on track to dedicate his life to helping people.
“Entrepreneurs like Nader will lead us in building a better world,” said Aoun. “You’ve all cultivated this mindset at Northeastern.”
Embodying cultural agility
In his speech, President Aoun also highlighted Jessica Uhlig, a new graduate who majored in business administration with a concentration in supply chain management and minored in global entrepreneurship. Uhlig demonstrated cultural agility as a student, Aoun said — a vital quality for young people entering the workforce.
Uhlig completed a co-op in Kenya with EFK Group, Ltd., which processes croton nuts, an ingredient in biofuels and animal feed. She gathered and analyzed data on the social impact of the company’s supply chain. Uhlig also oversaw the implementation of a new factory layout, using knowledge she gained in class to make the facility operate more efficiently.
“That was the most memorable time I could see direct change as a result of my ideas come to fruition,” Uhlig said.
In her free time, she volunteered with homeless youth in rural Kenya. Back in Boston, Uhlig served as a mentor for Strong Women Strong Girls, a nonprofit that has provided mentoring for more than 1,400 girls in Boston and Pittsburgh.
“Jessica’s innovations help people build a better life,” Aoun said. “Every day, students like Nader and Jessica remind us that empathy is our driving force.”
Uhlig encouraged current students to take advantage of the experiential learning opportunities that make Northeastern unique.
“Go abroad or at least leave Boston,” Uhlig said. “I don’t think I know anyone who regretted that decision.”
‘I left no stone unturned’
The third student featured in Aoun’s speech was Tavish Fenbert, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering. Like Juha, Fenbert is using his engineering background and co-op experience to solve a pressing human problem.
On his co-op, Fenbert worked as a research assistant at the Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas in Mumbai, India. One of the challenges he helped address was the intensive energy use of spice processing facilities. For example, Fenbert worked with a turmeric roasting facility in a village outside the city, helping the facility save money by switching to solar energy.
“Tavish learned the transformative power of collaboration and partnership,” said Aoun.
Fenbert also participated in a Dialogue of Civilizations program to Iceland, as well as an independent research project in Cuba to study natural disaster resiliency. But he said that one of the most rewarding experiences of his college career has been pursuing a minor in theater.
Fenbert offered this advice to current Northeastern students: “Engage with the arts as much as possible, whether that’s your major or a side interest. You might stumble on something you really like.” In addition to building sets for the theater department, Fenbert played trombone for the wind ensemble.
“I left no stone unturned.”