A Northwestern student group just took home a top prize for its sustainability-focused pitch.
Project MED, a group that aims to prepare high school students from underrepresented groups for health care careers, has won the first annual U7+ Alliance of World Universities Student Challenge.
The pitch competition, organized by École Polytechnique in France, asked student groups to present on projects that would tackle sustainable development using technology and innovation. The four participating schools were members of the U7+ Alliance, a coalition of university presidents that aims to work with governments to determine what universities can do to meet global challenges.
Weinberg junior Irene Quan, director and founder of the organization, said the group highlighted the MEDLanch database in addition to workshops and mentorships as a way to increase accessibility to healthcare options. Students can use the database to find opportunities related to research, volunteering, shadowing, and more.
The students’ unique take on the idea of sustainability helped them stand out, she said.
“Normally (sustainability) is used to talk about the environment and things like climate change and ways to fight it,” Quan said. “But for us, sustainability means not only being able to use the technology, but also create another solution for communities to create change without other people helping them all the time.”
Last year students founded ProjectMED.
According to executive officer and Weinberg junior Emily Lam, Project MED was formed because the student leaders realized the privileges they had in pursuing health care careers that others did not.
Lam pointed to NU’s Honors Program in Medical Education, a seven-year BA/MD program that allowed students to go straight to medical school, which was canceled after more than 60 years due to equality concerns. She said the program typically supported students who had opportunities in health care from an early age.
“That led to a lot of self-reflection for us in the program and the recognition that we can serve as bridges to connect students from disadvantaged high schools,” Lam said. “We can connect them to Northwestern and other resource-rich institutions where they can access like we did as high school students.”
Quan described Project MED’s mission as twofold: to introduce high school students to the depth and breadth of healthcare opportunities and prepare them for successful careers in those fields.
Working with students and partner organizations in the Chicago area, executive officer and Weinberg junior Rishi Jain said he encountered a diversity of perspectives that he appreciated.
“I’m from the Bay Area, so the demographics (in Chicago) are definitely very different,” Jain said. “Working with students who had very different life paths and perspectives than mine was really eye-opener and humbling.”
An additional challenge is learning how to navigate the differences between the schools, Jain said. Factors such as student backgrounds and funding influenced the way Project MED presents the curriculum and communicates with students.
The work has played an important role in developing their own awareness as future doctors, Jain said.
“As a practicing physician, the people you will meet, the level of comfort they have and the confidence they feel will vary greatly,” Jain said. “Being patient and giving them space to share and for us to listen is very important. It’s definitely something that helps us prepare in the back of our minds to be more holistic doctors.”
Lam said she hopes winning the student challenge will help Project MED gain more legitimacy in earning the trust of high schools they want to partner with.
Executive member and Weinberg junior Nikhil Sriram said he believes the organization’s ability to build trusting relationships with their community partners is one reason they won the challenge.
He said he hopes Project MED will not only grow in the Chicago area, but also increase student engagement with NOW.
“We have definitely shown that we are a group that is serious, knowledgeable and passionate about what we do,” Sriram said. “I hope winning these challenges is a better reflection of that.”
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