Summer Service Grant | A Community-Based Approach to Breast Cancer Prevention

In summer 2016, Nathaniel Tran (Tufts ’17) explored his interest in public health by researching the barriers preventing women from receiving a basic screening mammogram, particularly in the Boston area. Through Nathaniel’s hard work and many collaborations, the project was able to bring mobile technology to patients, create a sense of community in healthcare, and empower women through health education.

I had just finished speaking with an appointment coordinator at one of the nearby medical centers. She was calling to let me know that a patient had missed her mammography screening appointment, making that the 4th patient to miss so far this week … and it was only Wednesday. What was causing so many women to “no-show” for their mammograms? I work in Boston, Massachusetts, which is home to three academic medical centers, and there is no shortage of medical providers.

Attending and presenting at a health fair at a new potential partner site.

This summer, I made it my goal to better understand the nature of these missed appointments by conducting interviews with community health center patients. Through demographic data, I found that the center serves primarily low-income, underinsured women of color. From the interviews, common themes in our conversations suggested that a combination of a language barrier, poor public transportation, fear of cancer, and loss of potential income prevented these women from following through with their mammography screening appointments. Continue reading

Summer Service Grant: Cultivating Tension and Conflict on the Irish Stage​

This summer Irina Gavrilova (Yale ’17) spent time in Dublin, Ireland, studying the role of Irish theatre in shaping the country’s conception of nationhood. With the #WakingTheFeminists movement for gender equality in Irish theatre as her case study, Irina spent a month in Dublin researching and interviewing students, artists, managers, and designers to learn more about this unique intersection between art and politics.

As a theatre director with a keen interest in politics, I am fascinated by the connection between the two, which I set out to investigate this summer. With a focus on the #WakingTheFeminists movement for gender equality in Irish theatre, the goal of my project was to make a case that knowledge and skills acquired through theatre can and do produce an impact on the political stage. The material I gathered during this project will serve as research for an original play I plan to present at Yale next spring.

The All Performing Arts Conference in Galway where many members of #WakingTheFeminists participated as panel speakers

Irish theatre and nationalism have gone hand in hand since before the country’s independence from Britain; the electrifying synergy between the theatre and its public inspired people to interrogate their national identity, initiating a struggle for independence. It has always been the place where, as scholar Martin Esslin puts it, the nation “thinks in front of itself”— a statement that rings especially true this year. Continue reading

Summer Service Grant | Teaching in West Bengal

As an aspiring physician with an interest in health disparities, Mariely Garcia (Bowdoin ’17) cares deeply about making quality healthcare services and knowledge available to all people. This summer, Mariely received a Summer Service Grant from QuestBridge to work with a grassroots organization in the small Indian town of Gorubathan to put her passions into practice.

mariely-garcia4When I said the final goodbye to my mother before heading to the airport, I will admit that I started to panic. It was the kind of panic that sent my heart into total pandemonium, made me exceptionally fidgety, and brought a million doubts to mind. Sitting in the taxi, watching the familiar New York City skyline zoom past in the distance brought me to the realization that the next time I was on land, I would be on the other side of the world. Continue reading

Summer Service Grant | Blue Notes Under Red Banners: A Summer of Soviet Jazz

In summer 2016, Ryan Gourley (Brown ’17) received a Summer Service Grant from QuestBridge to pursue his project: Jazz behind the Iron Curtain: Preserving the Legacy of a Forgotten Generation of Musicians. Through his research, including visits to jazz hubs in the former USSR and Eastern Bloc, Ryan aimed to preserve the jazz music culture from this era while exploring his own interest in the topic.

Ryan Gourley (Brown ’17) in Saint Petersburg, Russia

The relationship between national identity, cultural identity, and musical practice pervaded my thoughts as I traversed my way through Western Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania this summer. My research had me in search of the remnants of a time when the production of jazz was a national issue; a time when an invisible iron curtain split the European continent between those who lived under red banners and those who did not. Continue reading

Summer Service Grant | Teaching and Learning in Lagos

Last summer, Ibironke Otusile (Wesleyan ’15) received a Summer Service Grant to contribute to both the research and grassroots education sides of the water crisis in Lagos, Nigeria.

DSC05281This past summer I traveled to Lagos, Nigeria, with so many expectations, but no idea how they would be fulfilled. I knew that there is a water crisis in Lagos, Nigeria, amongst other looming issues, and I was going there to contribute to finding a lasting solution. As part of my plans, I was going to lecture about water sanitation at a local school, while also working at the Lagos State Water Corporation and the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency.
Continue reading

Summer Service Grant | Photovoice: Picture Dis(Ability)

Last summer, Carrie Chui (University of Chicago ’15) received a Summer Service Grant from QuestBridge to explore how photographs can speak louder than words for adults with mental and physical disabilities. Below, she reflects on the growth she both experienced herself and witnessed in others over the course of the summer.

Looking at their own photographs, Shirley and Phuc could not hold back their smiles. I was also elated, seeing their work finally come to fruition and arranged neatly along the gallery walls. Continue reading

Separate and Unequal: Segregated Education in Chicago

“Racism is over.  We have a black president!”  “Why does it always have to be about race?  Most people aren’t racist anymore.”  “We live in a post-racist society, don’t make it about race.  Black people are racist too.”  These are just a few of the many comments made mostly by white peers, but also some people of color, in lieu of the recent events in Ferguson and the Michael Brown shooting.  The manifestation of ignorance that stems from these comments is flabbergasting, seeing that evidence of racism and systematic racism exists not only right outside of our very doors, but on our screens in our own homes as well.  My project focused on how systematic racism in the United States affects the role of education in the lives of people of color, specifically blacks, in the city of Chicago.

Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the United States.  Figure 1 shows exactly how much.  Understandably, segregated neighborhoods lead to segregated schools.  This racial divide is directly correlated with the socioeconomic divide in the city.  The schools in Chicago that are struggling the most are located in predominantly black neighborhoods –most of these on the south side- suffering from significant unemployment rates and lack of resources.  As I visited CPS schools on the south side of Chicago, rarely -if ever- did I see a white student.  White students make up only 9% of the CPS population, whereas Hispanics make up 45%, and blacks, 39% (   Although Chicago is about equal parts white, Hispanic, and black, it is true that there is a considerably smaller white population within school aged children.  However, even so, a significantly less percentage of school aged white children (51%) attend CPS than school aged black students (85%).  (See Figure 2)

Figure 1. Source:

If students are not attending CPS, they are most likely attending private schools, which means about half of school aged white kids in Chicago attend private schools compared to only 15% of black kids.  For example, the University of Chicago Lab School, which is located on the south side of Chicago in Hyde Park, is over 60% white and less than 9% black.  0% of the entire student population comes from low-income backgrounds.  It is evident that racial and economic segregation go hand in hand in this country and city.

After speaking to black high school students in Chicago, it was very clear to me that there is little opportunity for them to attend a private school because most come from low-income backgrounds and their families cannot pay the tuition.  But wait; can’t these students attend selective schools?  Yes, free selective schools exist in the CPS system and all students in the city and suburbs are allowed to try and test into them.  These schools are the elite schools in the CPS system and even in the country, being the highest scoring schools in the state.  Admittance to any of the four selective schools –Whitney Young, Northside Prep, Walter Payton, and Jones- is sure to lead many students down a road of success.  These schools would be a great tool to use in trying to desegregate the city, except for the fact that the admittance process does not work in favor of low-income black students.

These selective schools give 30% of the available seats to those who score the highest on the tests regardless of background.  Take a guess as to whom most of those seats end up going to: rich white kids.  The remaining 70% of seats are divided up into a tier system based on income.  There are 4 tiers.  The income level and other factors of each tier are shown in figure 3.  WBEZ “found that 29 percent of current freshmen at Walter Payton College Prep graduated from private grammar schools.  At the other elite high schools, the number is right around 20 percent. And private school kids make up only around 12 percent of those testing to get into these schools.”  (Story can be found here:  It also does not help that CPS no longer uses race as an admissions factor for these selective schools.

Figure 2. Souce:


To help deal with the issue of segregation in Chicago in regards to education, CPS must begin instilling a quota based on race for these selective schools.  Additionally, these selective schools ought to have a maximum number of students from private grammar schools that can be admitted.  These students who are coming from elite grammar schools are taking seats that could be given to low-income students for selective schools are one of the few places they can go to take part in a rigorous curriculum.

When speaking to black high school students on the south side of Chicago, none of them denied the importance of education.  All students realized the value of an education in this country.  However, 93 of 100 students felt that they did not have the resources to attend elite schools and were skeptical in their abilities to attend a prestigious university.  These students were unaware of the substantial financial aid that is available at prestigious universities.  The lack of motivation I saw in some of these students was disheartening, but not shocking.  The way black and brown lives are portrayed in the media and treated in the United States makes it very understandable as to why there is a lack of motivation in the black community.  Education is key to fueling that motivation.  After finishing this project, I hope to start a program that will utilize University of Chicago students of color from low-income backgrounds to show students in the south side community that people like us can succeed, it will be hard work, but worth it in the end.

Figure 3. Source:

— Aya Smith, Quest Scholar, University of Chicago ’14

My Internship in India

fatimaMy time in India was an experience, to say the least. I learned so much and grew even more, all whilst trying to navigate a country where I was a complete foreigner.


During my time in Mumbai, I worked as an intern at Apne Aap Women’s Collective, a non-profit organization that works with women and children in the red light district of Kamathipura. I came into the office and I was given free reign to decide what I wanted to do with my 8-week internship. It was the first time I had an internship that wasn’t structured or planned out for me and it was a surprising challenge. So, I took the first week to learn about the organization as a member of the staff and figure out what gaps I could fill. This experience would become my first big lesson while interning with this organization. It forced me to really think about my skills and come up with my own projects to pursue. That may not sound difficult but it takes quite a lot of planning, self-analysis, and understanding of the organizations needs. In the end, I decided to take on creating a research report detailing the nutritional needs of the pregnant women and children under the age of two. The report will now be used to garner funding for a project to address the nutritional needs detailed in the report.  In addition, I taught a spoken English class every weekend, I taught a ballet class for several weekends, I helped create several manuals for the organizations different programs, and I began the process of transferring all their registrars from soft copies to excel spreadsheets. As I evaluate the experience in terms of the work I did, I see that I definitely challenged myself because I was forced to use so many different skill sets. It wasn’t a position tailored to only one aspect of the organization; as a result, I had to be very flexible in my working environment. I worked with the fundraising team as much as I worked with the person in charge of the research projects. Not only did I have to balance my work but I had to balance my skills, too. Overall, it made me a stronger member of any team that I join because I can tailor my personal skills to fit any problem or situation that I am confronted with.


I would like to end with my biggest takeaway from being abroad: Achieving success doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone and that is A-OK! This is something that I struggled with even before I left this summer but it became even clearer to me during my time in Mumbai. I tend to think that everyone should want to be super successful in terms of being at the height of their game all the time, working to be the best in their field, and trying to reach the top because that is what I want and that is what those around me want. The reality is, this is not something that everyone wants. Just because I can’t understand it doesn’t mean it is any less legitimate as goal for someone else. It is difficult because I want everyone to want to be the best but the hard truth is, it is not my place to want those things for other people if they don’t want it for themselves. My idea of success is a product of my environment and you have to be quite self-aware to recognize that and grapple with making sure not to place those values on others who have completely different goals and influencing environments. In the end, it was really difficult for me to grapple with other people not wanting to reach the same level of success that I want but it was necessary. I now recognize that I may want to be the best at what I do and keep striving for titles, accomplishments, accolades, and degrees but, that doesn’t make my dreams anymore legitimate than someone who wants to simply get a college degree, or wants to spend more time at home raising a family, or wants to have a quiet life in the countryside. I don’t have to understand the reasoning’s why but I do have to recognize that those peoples are successful because that is how they chose to define their success.


— Fatimatou Diallo, Quest Scholar, Columbia ’15

NAV ME for Accessible Futures

navmeJuan and I received the Quest Summer Service Grant to start creating an indoor navigation solution for people with vision impairments. As this was an ambitious project that required manpower and extensive skills in different areas, we also worked with another Northwestern Quest Scholar, Spencer Williams, and two other Northwestern students, Suhong Jin and Austin Dickey.

The Quest Summer Service grant allowed us to start the arduous and repetitive process of user-centric design in coordination with The Friedman Place, a support community for people with vision impairments in Chicago, Illinois. The entire process took a combination of research, brainstorming, sketching and designing, mocking up, and user testing. As a group, we spent two weeks gaining a working knowledge of our end users and sourcing different research papers on the abilities, cognition, and habits of people with impairments. We combined this with preliminary user observations and interviews of different Friedman Place residents to get the foundation of user requirements and specifications. What we found was that our users needed a solution that was cost-effective, easy to use, durable and stylish, and relied heavily on haptic feedback. These findings led to another week of research as we familiarized ourselves with the new topics such as haptics and ergonomic form factors.

From there, we spent four weeks repeatedly taking to whiteboards and piles of scratch paper to sketch out our visions for this solution. In line with design practice, we started out with broad ideas and iterated through mock-ups to test our ideas, narrow down the options, and refine them. Initially, we heavily tested different form factors to hold our solution and deliver haptic feedback. These ranged from wristbands, to armbands, to additions to our user’s white canes. We ultimately decided on the wristband form factor, which allowed us to leverage an emerging technology — smart watches. This came after a considering the support of Android and iOS API’s and code libraries as well as the availability of devices, all of which would be beneficial for our users.

We acquired Android smart watches and rooted them for development. Then we began mocking up and testing different methods of interacting with the device, both user input and output. We tested different input options from voice recognition to gesture control and also tested haptic and audio feedback. Some of the results were promising but across the board it was clear that smart devices (including smartphones since we also tested those) are not completely accessible and friendly to users with vision impairments. We knew then that we needed to revisit the drawing board and some how amend or add-on to smart devices to make our solution truly accessible to users with vision impairments.

This summer has been very informative and educational to us. We developed skills in design, teamwork, communication, and programming for meaningful causes. It has revealed to us where modern technology fails to meet modern standards for accessibility. We learned that as designers and creators, we make the active decision whether or not to make our products accessible and all too often we choose to not to.

Now, Adel Lahlou, Spencer Williams, and Suhong Jin will continue to work on creating NavMe, an indoor navigation solution. We have setup this website — — to connect and update those interested in this work. We also cut this video to demonstrate our vision for accessible environments —

A lot of this experience would not have been possible without support from the Quest Summer Service Grant. So from our team and on behalf of people with vision impairments, thank Quest Scholars Network.

— Adel Lahlou and Juan David Dominguez, Quest Scholar, Northwestern ’17