Northwestern’s Project MED wins inaugural ThinkChicago IMPACT competition


Photo courtesy of Sean Lee

Five members of Project MED represent the group at ThinkChicago Impact 2023, including Weinberg senior Irene Quan and McCormick junior Aru Singh.

Pavan Acharya, Print Managing Editor

Last summer, Project MED — a Northwestern student group aiming to prepare and educate high school students from underrepresented backgrounds for careers in health care — took home the top award at the inaugural U7+ Alliance of World Universities Student Challenge. 

In February, lightning struck twice for the group, as it won first prize at another new competition: ThinkChicago IMPACT 2023. Five members of Project MED competed in a weeklong competition to address problems facing the city of Chicago. 

“In the span of three or four days we had to create an entire presentation and perfect our pitch for the competition,” said Weinberg senior and Project MED Director Irene Quan. “(There were) a lot of hours of combing through data, finding good research to support the pitch and then putting everything together.”

Quan, who co-founded Project MED, said the group’s work paid off. The club won $2,500 to cap off its first-place win at the competition.

At the event, groups addressed a prompt based on one of three focus areas: life sciences, energy and food innovation. For the life sciences category, Project MED pitched an app that would provide mentorship and academic support for high schoolers from historically underrepresented groups. According to its February presentation, about 80% of high school students perceive barriers to pursuing medical school.

ThinkChicago Program Manager Beatriz Kauffmann said the company — which operates under World Business Chicago, the nonprofit economic development agency of the city — hosted the competition to attract talent and provide participants with financial and career support. 

ThinkChicago also plans to host an event later this month featuring keynote speakers, panels and networking opportunities. Kauffmann said these events help develop participating students’ careers by connecting them with companies like Microsoft. 

“The idea behind it was (showcasing) student excellence in Chicago and their innovation while also really connecting them to the city’s history and challenges and putting them in front of businesses in a way that they wouldn’t normally be,” Kauffmann said.

She added that representatives from Microsoft were present at the award ceremony. The money awarded to Project MED was “completely donated” by the technology corporation, she said.

According to the Project MED website, the organization uses a “three-pronged approach” to teaching high schoolers about opportunities in the health care field: workshops, a mentorship program and an online opportunities database. 

McCormick junior Aru Singh, co-founder and executive board member of Project MED, said the $2,500 prize will likely go toward funding organization-sponsored workshops or providing transportation to mentors to travel to nearby high schools.

Singh added the group is currently working on multiple projects and wants to automate the database’s process of adding research, volunteer and shadowing opportunities students can access and apply to. The group, which is now a resident team at The Garage, is also experiencing leadership turnover with the majority of its current executive board graduating, she said. 

The executive board structure will change, Singh said, so there’s a “school lead” for each high school with which Project MED partners. 

Singh and Quan co-founded Project MED along with five other students also on the pre-medical track in February 2021.

“We started out as friends, and it was easier to be like, ‘Oh, if someone has sent you this, I can pick up the slack,’” she said. “But now that we’re moving into more of a formal structure and people are moving beyond college, we had to come up with something more sustainable.”

Quan, who will graduate at the end of the academic year, added that sustainability is the “most important” goal for the group moving forward. She said the club must sustain its relationships with local high schools and high schoolers.

“(At) the beginning of college, I came in and was like, ‘I want to do big things. I want to change the healthcare system,’” Quan said. “But now, I’ve realized that impact can even mean something like helping a student change their perspective on health care or learn something new.”

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Twitter: @PavanAcharya02

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