Project MED wins inaugural U7+ Student Challenge


Illustration by Gemma DeCetra

Project MED won the first annual U7+ Alliance of World Universities Student Challenge in France.The student organization focuses on educating and preparing high school students for healthcare careers, particularly from underrepresented groups.

Jenna Wang, Reporter

One Northwestern student group just took home a top prize for its sustainability driven pitch.

Project MED, a group that seeks to prepare high school students from underrepresented groups for careers in healthcare, won the inaugural U7+ Alliance of World Universities Student Challenge. 

Hosted by École Polytechnique in France, the pitch competition asked student groups to present on projects that would address sustainable development using technology and innovation. The four participating schools were members of the U7+ Alliance, which is a coalition of university presidents aiming to define what universities can do to address global challenges alongside governments. 

Weinberg junior Irene Quan, the organization’s director and founder, said the group emphasized its MEDLaunch database in addition to workshops and mentorships as a way to broaden accessibility of healthcare opportunities. 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. 

“Typically, (sustainability) is used to talk about the environment and things like climate change and ways to combat that,” Quan said. “But for us, sustainability means not just being able to use the technology, but to also create a different solution for communities to create change without other people constantly helping them.” 

Students founded ProjectMED just last year.

According to executive officer and Weinberg junior Emily Lam, Project MED was formed because the student leaders realized the privileges they had in pursuing healthcare careers that others lacked. 

Lam pointed to the NU’s Honors Program in Medical Education, a seven year BA/MD program that allowed students to go straight into medical school, which was canceled after more than 60 years due to equity concerns. She said the program typically supported students who already had opportunities within the healthcare field from an early age. 

“That led to a lot of self reflection for us in the program and recognizing that we can serve as bridges to connect students who are from underserved high schools,” Lam said. “We can connect them to Northwestern and other resource-rich institutions where they can have access like we did as high school students.”

Quan described Project MED’s mission as two-fold — to expose high schoolers to the depth and breadth of health care opportunities and to prepare them for successful careers within those fields. 

By working with students and partner organizations in the Chicago area, executive officer and Weinberg junior Rishi Jain said he encountered a diversity of perspectives which he valued. 

“I’m from the Bay Area, so the demographic (in Chicago) is definitely very different,” Jain said. “Working with students who had very different paths in life and perspectives from my own has been really eye-opening and humbling.” 

An additional challenge has been learning how to navigate the differences between the schools, Jain said. Factors like student background and funding affected how Project MED presents the curriculum and communicates with students. 

The work has been instrumental in developing their own awareness as future physicians, Jain said. 

“As a practicing physician, the individuals you’ll meet, the comfort levels they have and the trust they feel will vary wildly,” Jain said. “Being patient and giving a space for them to share and for us to listen is very important. It’s definitely been something that in the back of our minds is helping us prepare to be more holistic physicians.” 

Lam said she hopes winning the student challenge will help Project MED establish more legitimacy when gaining the trust of high schools with which they want to partner. 

Executive member and Weinberg junior Nikhil Sriram said he believes the organization’s ability to establish trustworthy relationships with their community partners is one reason why they won the challenge. 

He said he hopes Project MED will not only grow throughout the Chicago area but also expand  student involvement at NU. 

“We’ve definitely shown that we are a group that is serious, knowledgeable and is passionate about what we do,” Sriram said. “I’m hoping that winning these challenges is a greater reflection of that.” 

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Twitter: @jennajwang

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