Northwestern Alumni named to Forbes’ “30 under 30” lists

Madeline Fox, Campus Editor

Northwestern alumni were named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” lists, which recognize young leaders in 20 different fields.

​Four of the​ alumni — Mark Silberg (Weinberg ’14), Kate Gardiner (Medill ’09), Audrey Cheng (Medill ’15) and Anoop Jain (McCormick ‘09) — were recognized in three different categories. Individuals are nominated or can nominate themselves to the “30 Under 30”lists, which are released annually, by filling out an online form.

Silberg, who was recognized in the energy category, founded Spark Clean Energy, a program to bring technology learning out of research labs and to students across the country. Silberg said his experience as a philosophy major at NU has been instrumental to his work in clean energy. He currently works at the sustainable energy nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute as the network manager of its Electricity Innovation Lab, in addition to his role at Spark.

“What motivates me at least is not as much the tech transformation or the wealth creation,” Silberg said. “It’s more about solving this major problem we face as a society, and the questions that we ask ourselves in philosophy all underpin the broader conversation in the energy sector.”

He said NU was a great environment for fostering startup ideas, and that seeing startups created by alumni and current students during his time at the university helped to inspire his own venture.

Silberg also credits his experience living in GREEN House and being involved in “every energy student group I could get my hands on” for developing his interest in renewable energy.

Gardiner is the founder of DSTL, a social media and online distribution strategy company. She was recognized in the media category along with several other members of, a networking platform for professional women across industries.

Although Gardiner was a Medill graduate student, she said Kellogg’s Media Management Program that she completed while at NU was the most useful for her career.

“It was sort of the backbone of a lot of the research I’ve done since then, a big piece of how we strategize for a content-producing company to this day,” she said.

Gardiner said her work is often based around helping news organizations that have been around for decades adjust to new media markets and technologies.

Both Cheng and Jain were listed in Forbes’ social entrepreneurs category. Cheng, who studied at NU as an undergraduate, co-founded the Moringa School, a Nairobi-based school that teaches students how to code in a 12-week intensive program. Jain is the founder of the Humanure Power Project, a nonprofit that constructs community toilet facilities in Bihar, India.

Cary Hayner, who was also named in the energy category, was studying for his PhD in engineering at NU before he left to work full-time for startup SiNode Systems, which develops new lithium-ion anode technology. Lithium-ion batteries power hybrid cars and consumer electronics. Hayner became involved in SiNode after he worked as an advisor for the NUvention energy class that gave rise to the company. He left NU to serve as SiNode’s chief technology officer in 2013.

Hayner, like Silberg, praised the supportive environment for startups at NU.

“Northwestern has been invaluable with the mentorship and the advisors they’ve provided,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of Northwestern alumni recognized in Forbes’ “30 under 30” lists. At least five alumni were recognized as “30 under 30” honorees.

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