Seniors to watch
These standouts include an entrepreneur, a comedian, a social justice warrior and an opera singer
These extraordinary Northwestern seniors are setting out to make their marks in basketball, robotics, education, comedy, social justice, software engineering, food security, philanthropy, TV production and opera. Read their stories.
Look for Nia Coffey on television this summer during the WNBA season. The learning and organizational change major leaves behind an impressive legacy at Northwestern and will be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players in school history.
She was drafted fifth overall by the San Antonio Stars, joining Amy Jaeschke as the only two Wildcats selected since the league’s first season 20 years ago.
The Minneapolis, Minnesota, native is Northwestern's all-time leader in rebounds (1,183), free throws made (496) and consecutive double-digit scoring games (66). She also holds the Northwestern record for most rebounds in a single season (344). Coffey finished second all-time in points with 2,287, as well as second all-time in blocked shots with 229.
Marc Gyongyosi has always had an entrepreneurial vibe. When he was 15, he built a Boeing 737 flight simulator in his parents’ basement in Salzburg, Austria, later selling the technology to offset the costs.
As a Northwestern sophomore, the computer science major interned in BMW’s advanced robotics research and development department. With experiences like these, it’s no wonder he’s set to return to his latest venture: Intelligent Flying Machines (IFM). The startup is a data analytics company that uses small flying robots to automate indoor data capture.
“Think about what Google Maps did for the outdoors. There’s no equivalent for indoor space, and yet we spend so much more of our lives inside.”
Winner of business competitions at Rice and Oregon, IFM is testing its drones as part of a number of pilot projects across different industries.
In kindergarten, Boston native Arielle Ticho was the child sitting cross-legged on the floor, reading to classmates and pointing to the words. By the time she got to college, she focused in on a teaching career while working with the Breakthrough Collaborative. It was then she observed the disparities between wealthy schools and those that struggled for resources in poorer neighborhoods.
“I’ve seen children who’re being robbed of the opportunity to be their best selves. And I think education can be a powerful force for change.”
Also at Northwestern, she interned for the U.S. Department of Education, writing summary briefs on congressional hearings on the Every Student Succeeds Act and learning the effects of politics on education.
The social policy major and Spanish minor will have the chance to elevate her own teaching experience now that she’s received a prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistant fellowship in Colombia.
Andover, Massachusetts, native Harry Wood has been destined for a career in comedy since the day in first grade when his young classmates - all Red Sox fans - booed him for wearing a Yankees jersey to school. But he got hooked on the attention. The theater major has been on stage for more than a decade now, but his biggest break came this spring during the Northwestern student showcase in New York City when his performance earned him a contract with Abrams Artists Agency.
Having representation means he’ll quickly get auditions, and he’s not about to squander the opportunity. “Every time I perform, I have this irrational fear that someone’s going to pull me off stage and tell me I can’t do this. So I’ll put it all out there and see what happens. My greatest successes have come in the moments when I just let go of expectation and enjoy the process.”
De’Sean Weber learned from his mother, a social worker, that helping others is what’s most important. As an anthropology major and aspiring health care professional, Weber is using the power of personal stories to help improve health outcomes in marginalized, low-income communities like his own in Cincinnati, Ohio.
He studies the deeper, less obvious reasons people are predisposed to illness.
“A personal story adds context; it can get at things that numbers can’t. If someone gets an infection, you can treat them with an antibiotic. But what in their environment and lifestyle led to that infection?”
Weber has received a fellowship through the Congressional Hunger Center in Washington, D.C., to participate in a prestigious social justice program that bridges community-based efforts and national policy around hunger and poverty.
Early in her Northwestern career, Diane Liu developed a love for coding and the instant gratification of evaluating her work on the fly. “You build something in the morning and deploy it the same day. So you quickly see what works and what doesn’t.”
Liu, a computer science major, has put her stamp on the Northwestern innovation community as president of the campus group HackNorthwestern, which provides resources in programming, design and entrepreneurship through hack nights at The Garage. As a mentor to younger students, Liu says it’s exciting to see them learn.
The Foster City, California, native interned at Google last summer, and she’ll return to Silicon Valley after graduation as a full-time software engineer for HR services provider Gusto.
Tara Mittelberg conquered her fear of flying when she visited six continents in 10 weeks on a Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant last summer. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native, an environmental science and international studies major, sought to advance the conversation about genetically modified crops in countries from Brazil to Ghana to the Philippines. The experience taught her how patents, regulations and markets can be obstacles that keep technological innovations from getting to small farmers.
Mittelberg credits as her inspiration in fighting food insecurity the legendary agronomist Norman Borlaug. The father of the Green Revolution, Borlaug received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to increase the global food supply.
“By the year 2050, there’ll be 9.6 billion people to feed on Earth. This is our generation’s problem now, and we have to figure it out together. Biotechnology will help, but it’s only part of the solution.”
The next step begins after graduation when she takes a Fulbright fellowship back in Brazil. There she’ll study how local economic factors influence the emergence and management of herbicide-resistant weeds.
Giving back has long been a way of life for Nikita Patel. The computer science major and flutist from Houston, Texas, has been running her own nonprofit organization since high school. She founded Simple Gifts to provide refurbished musical instruments to low-income children.
“Music made me who I am. It taught me more than just how to play an instrument. I’ve grown because people pushed and supported me.”
Patel has recruited fellow Northwestern students to take over Simple Gifts after she graduates. For her day job, she’ll join the digital projects team at the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in Chicago. But before that, she’s looking forward to visiting one of her beneficiaries: the group Ghetto Classics, based in Nairobi, Kenya, where volunteers teach at-risk students classical music.
Ethan Cohen enjoyed the technical aspects of theatre production as a high school student in Palo Alto, California. So it was an easy transition to the “lights, camera, action” of live television for the double major in journalism and political science.
Having sharpened his skills through the Washington, D.C., reporting program Medill on the Hill, he also served as lead researcher on the recent book “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.
Now Cohen is back in the nation’s capital working full-time at CNN as a production assistant on the afternoon news show “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
He values his place on the team working on such a prominent national platform, which does good by promoting honesty and accountability in reporting.
“One of the best uses of TV journalism is to interview elected officials. There’s great value in seeing how a person reacts in the moment to tough questions. It can be very revealing.”
Cuban-American tenor Frank Laucerica, born and raised in Miami, recalls a childhood filled with the sounds of his mother singing and his father playing the guitar. It’s no wonder, then, he came to study at the Bienen School of Music.
The voice and opera performance major has scored many major credits during his time at Northwestern, including the operas “The Magic Flute” and “The Marriage of Figaro” by Mozart and “Back and Forth” by German composer Paul Hindemith.
Laucerica also is part of the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, with whom he’s performed several world and Midwestern premieres.
As he prepares to graduate, he reflects on his journey. “My mother was an incredible role model, and I learned you earn success by working for it. This is not a career where you can put it on cruise, so I make the choice every day to keep exploring and learning to get better.”
In June, he begins rehearsals as an associate member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. And in the fall, he’ll sing with The Crossing, a professional chamber choir conducted by Northwestern’s Donald Nally.