Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Alumni spend A Day With Northwestern learning about AI, astronomy, NU Football

Samantha Powers/The Daily Northwestern
Alumni enjoyed a catered lunch to the sounds of smooth jazz between lectures.

Close to 300 alumni and other community members gathered at Norris University Center to learn from professors at the top of their fields for A Day With Northwestern. The day-long speaker event, hosted by the NU Alumni Association, featured topics like astronomy, AI and news, along with democracy and diversity.

The windy Saturday opened with an interdisciplinary panel on how to live a “happy, healthy and thriving life.” After a day of learning and socializing, alumni attended a career celebration of NU’s Director of Bands Mallory Thompson, who became the first woman to fill the position in 1996.

Jacqueline Thomas, senior associate director at NU Alumni Engagement, said organizers aimed to represent the University’s values through the day’s speakers and topics.

“At Northwestern, you’re spoilt for choice, because there’s so much incredible work going on here,” Thomas said. “Every session we’re looking at, we’re looking to amplify (University priorities) and make sure to spread those out to our community.”

Thomas said organizers planned to make the event more accessible to students and looked to build alumni engagement from the ground up. Students received a discounted ticket price for the day — which was as low as $1 with a promotion code.

Most attendees were from the Chicago area, according to Thomas. Veena Jain (Weinberg ’91) brought her husband, Veerender Samderiya, to Evanston from the Naperville area.

Jain, who studied Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences and then pursued law, said she branched out from her area of expertise through Saturday’s lectures. 

She attended “Beyond Astronomy: Chasing Spacewarps and Stardust with Giant Telescopes and Artificial Intelligence” and “Blueprints for Safety: Engaged Science and the Story of Collaborative Gun Violence Prevention in Chicago.”

She said attending the day of programming reminded her of her undergraduate years.

“It is interesting for me that I was here a long time ago,” Jain said. “I was a volunteer, not for this program, but for a different program, and now I’m on the other side.”

Standing by her side, Samderiya said he enjoyed the opportunity to be in a college environment again. At a catered lunch, he and other attendees enjoyed music and conversations with friends new and old.

“We just ended up talking to new people that we met randomly,” he said. “We had a really good conversation at the lunch table with a student, just getting to know the real life (at NU).”

Feinberg Prof. Theresa Bender Pape gave a talk titled “Rebuilding Brain Power” about neuroplasticity. With decades of experience in her field, Pape said it was important to make her talk accessible.

At the beginning of her lecture, Pape used a poll to ask the audience how comfortable they felt with their knowledge of the brain. She said this feedback informed her talk’s structure.

“I probably had to break it down so that everybody could understand,” Pape said. “I live and breathe with nerds, so it’s important that we communicate well to the public, who have very limited knowledge of science.”

Pape said the talk was beneficial to both attendees and her work. She said she was able to give advice to attendees with loved ones of those facing brain injuries, and that feedback helped her stay “in touch.”

David McGrath (McCormick ’21) attended the talk on astronomy, which he said was far off from his area of expertise, product development. He said the experience opened his mind to new things.

McGrath called himself a life-long learner — since graduating from Eastern Illinois University with his bachelor’s degree, he has pursued outside learning opportunities like A Day With Northwestern.

“Since I’ve left school, I probably have done more in my life and my career to actually accelerate my learning… whether it’s certifications, outside study, or going back to school,” McGrath said.

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