Illustration by Avery Bleichfeld
Photo courtesy Grace Yeung
Grace Yeung spent her four years at Northeastern finding her voice, and she intends to use it to change the corporate world for the better.
A first generation college student, Yeung will be graduating with a degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing and will be moving to San Francisco to work in product management at the software company Salesforce.
“Within the last four years, I think I’m most proud of the fact that I never waited for permission, so to say, to chase after opportunities, whether it was leadership on campus, campus jobs, co-ops or internships and even off-campus opportunities,” she said. “I never waited for permission, I just chased after it.”...
After facing rejection after rejection from marketing co-ops, Yeung broadened her search and landed a product management position at GE Lighting, where she was able to work with people from different parts of the company as she managed new products from their early development to their launch and every step in between.
She found that other product management co-op options were limited, so she leveraged her network on LinkedIn to land a summer internship at Salesforce, which she parlayed into a full-time job.
Yeung noticed a lack of community and resources for students trying to break into product management, so she started Product Buds, a virtual product management communities. Product Buds aims to connect students interested in product management with each other and with professionals well-versed in the field. It all began when Yeung made a LinkedIn post offering virtual coffee chats to people looking to break into product management.
Today, Product Buds has over 5,000 members from 23 countries, less than a year after its founding last May. They host virtual guest speakers, events, mock interviews and even a book club.
Yeung noted that graduating college in 2021 presents unique challenges, especially for Asian Americans like Yeung, with anti-Asian hate crimes up 169% in the first quarter of 2021, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“In the corporate world, there’s the glass ceiling, whether it’s in technology or entrepreneurship or in the media. But also, there’s a bamboo ceiling. Asian women face both,” she said. “And I am so scared that I am going to have to fight so hard to be heard in workplaces to be promoted and to be paid fairly.”
Yeung learned to advocate for herself in the workplace during her co-op and internships, and says she now feels more confident speaking up in the workplace.
“The silver lining in all this is I have a voice,” she said.
And she is not afraid to use it to help not only herself, but other underrepresented people entering the tech industry and the corporate world in general.
“I’ve had those experiences, so I can stand up for myself in the future again, but also, I can help other women, other minorities to stand up for themselves,” she said.
Yeung encourages her fellow graduates to dedicate themselves to making lasting change wherever their careers take them.
“It’s not about me anymore,” she said. “It’s about who I can empower and bring up with me so that they can also find their voice and so that they can also feel heard and seen at work, at school and beyond.”
At the end of her third year, Gisselle Rodriguez Benitez decided not to run for reelection as president of the First Generation & Low Income Student Union, or FGLISU, which she had founded. After serving as president for one year, she wanted to make sure it could continue without her. Rodriguez Benitez might be graduating this semester, but she hopes that FGLISU will retain its strong impact long after she’s gone.
Graduating as an economics major with a minor in data science, fourth-year Rodriguez Benitez’s time at Northeastern has been shaped by a passion for public service and a desire to use her own experiences to support other students like her.
Rodriguez Benitez is a Federal Pell Grant recipient and the first in her family to go to college. During her time at Northeastern, she identified a need for a community that brought people like her, who had similar backgrounds, together....
“I recognized that the experience that I was having, that my peers were having, wasn’t similar to the rest of the Northeastern community,” she said, describing the gap she felt as a first generation and low income student. “My goal with starting the [FGLISU] space was that it would allow us to congregate in a community, to be able to set goals and foster that sense of community within the organization itself.”
FGLISU officially became a student union in fall 2019. As president, she raised awareness about issues facing first-generation and low-income students, organized social events, collaborated with other universities and created spaces for students to vent and find guidance from their peers.
Even though she has since stepped down as president, Rodriguez Benitez said the new leadership has expanded its reach, organizing more informational events like helping students register for government services that are available to low-income students. She is heartened by the direction FGLISU is heading in.
“I'm most grateful for the legacy [I’m] leaving there, because they're doing a really great job of including new students, so, freshmen, sophomores, into the environment,” she said. “I think that's something that I didn't have and [that] I'm really grateful exists now.”
Rodriguez Benitez is currently the secretary-general for the Northeastern Student of Color Caucus, where she has continued to strive for the equity that she began working toward with FGLISU. As she approaches the end of the semester, she is deciding between working full-time or pursuing graduate programs in education policy. She’s interested in the economics of education and has previously conducted research into charter schools and school finance.
As a 2021 graduate, she will be finishing her college career after a year in a pandemic. However, while Rodriguez Benitez has missed seeing her friends, she has appreciated the flexibility that virtual learning has provided, and she knows she’ll be okay — whatever comes next.
Thinking back on her time at Northeastern, she is most grateful for the encouraging community around her.
“I think that the quality of my time here has really been shaped by the people that I've interacted with,” she said. “I’ve had so many amazing staff, faculty and peers who have really shaped my perspective on what I want to get out of my education and post-grad plans. So, if there's anything that's been crucial and essential to my development as a student, it's been the different people that I've interacted with, who have guided me toward whatever path I'm on.”
Genie Blasingame is no stranger to struggles with mental health, but it was the loss a friend that pushed her to work towards a degree in psychology.
When her friend died by suicide, she decided that she didn’t want to lose any more of her friends and changed her major, with a personal focus on men’s depressive disorders.
“If I can be any part of the solution, then I want to be part of it,” Blasingame said....
Illustration by Avery Bleichfeld
When James Lyons came to Northeastern, he found a need for lasting student activism surrounding Black student groups on campus. He went on to help found or lead organizations and movements such as the Northeastern Students of Color Caucus, AfroSpectrum and BlackAtNU.
Now, as he prepares to leave NU to continue work in diversity and inclusion, beginning with his family’s recently-opened real estate business in central New Jersey — on of the only Black-owned real estate business in that area — he said he hopes the systems in place will allow student activism to keep moving forward, rather than getting stuck as a generation of leaders graduate.
“[A staff member] had said to me ‘you know, these aren't things that anyone can change in their time at Northeastern,’” Lyons said. “And I was like ‘I know that. I'm having this conversation, because I want to make sure when I come back to visit in five or 10 years that students aren't having the same problems I did.’”...
Illustration by Avery Bleichfeld
Photo courtesy Ciana Cronin
Graduate college. Get accepted into the Peace Corps. Go to culinary school. Open a pub. Those are some of fourth-year Ciana Cronin’s goals after graduating from Northeastern.
The desire to open a pub goes back to her roots. Growing up, Cronin accompanied her parents everywhere. With an Irish mother, that meant frequent trips to their local pub in Tucson, Arizona. Armed with a stack of chapter books, she would hang out there with her parents and learn about her local community — something she has come to value.
“I feel like in this generation, we've lost community spaces,” Cronin said. “I want a community space that's sustainable, ethical and employs local people. Restaurants are the best mechanism for facilitating real-world skills. They teach kids about nutrition, meal prep, customer service skills and budgeting. Somewhere you can get a good meal and sit there all day because you know everybody — that's what I want. That's what I crave.”...
Cronin has carried this sense of community with her throughout her time at Northeastern. After moving to Boston, she set out to find her people and build that for herself. Although she struggled at times, four years later she has an impressive list of accomplishments.
Cronin worked with March For Our Lives; did a consulting co-op in LA; studied abroad in Amman, Jordan; and then did a second co-op at Bluebird Bio in Cambridge, where she worked on a gene therapy program. She is also a member of Scout and of the Building Belonging Fellows program in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. Cronin is graduating with a degree in business administration, concentrating in finance and entrepreneurship, and minors in art and Arabic.
Additionally, she was a peer mentor for her co-op class, which she said was the most impactful thing that she did during her time at Northeastern.
“Mentorship was always really important to me,” she said. “I remember feeling so lost during the co-op process. Getting to be a peer mentor and spend time with students after some of their most exciting and difficult moments in college has been really great. There are people there who have impacted me more than I think I've impacted them.”
She said some of her fondest memories from Northeastern have been more intimate moments shared with friends such as studying one night with a friend in Snell. As they were walking back to their dorm, they were talking about the movie “The Notebook.” They decided the best thing to do was to lay down in the middle of the street and stare up at the night sky like the characters do in the film.
“It was Oct. 17, 2017, and every year since then we have a picture of us lying down on the road on that day,” Cronin said. “It’s stupid but it’s also really special to us.”
Thinking back on her time at Northeastern, she is most grateful for the encouraging community around her. Over the past four years, Cronin’s philosophies on life have shifted. Coming up on graduation she’s ready to push toward new challenges and move somewhere new. She believes that the opportunities that come with leaving school will allow her to continue to find new communities wherever she goes.
“I always thought I would measure my success for the rest of my life based on money or materials. It’s totally fine to think that, but it's not who I am anymore,” Cronin said. “I’ve become this person who, above all other things, is in pursuit of living life to its fullest, whatever that means for me, and I think choosing the hard stuff is what makes life worth it. I’m ready to grow and look back in four years’ time and just be glad I made that choice.”
Illustration by Avery Bleichfeld
During Sara Flynn’s time at Northeastern, she never sat still. Whether she was at the State House advocating for victims of sexual assault or aiding those experiencing homelessness, she always found ways to lend a hand to her community.
Originally from West Hartford, Connecticut, Flynn, a fifth-year human services major graduating this spring, entered Northeastern as a communications major. Through the N.U.in program, she traveled to Thessaloniki, Greece during her first semester. Soon after taking her first human services course in Boston, she realized she had found her passion.
“When I was [in Greece], I kind of realized that even though I wasn’t taking any communications classes, I was kind of like, ‘I don’t think that’s what I actually want,’” Flynn said. “When I came back to Boston in the spring, I just really fell in love with my first intro class for the human services program.”...
She soon became a service-learning student leader through the Community-Engaged Teaching and Research team, but Flynn didn’t stop there.
Flynn was a four-year member of the Northeastern Sexual Assault Response Coalition, or SARC, whose goal is “to bring better, more inclusive survivor-centered resources to campus to ensure the complete safety and health of all Northeastern students,” according to its mission statement.
Along with being an active member of the organization, she helped start the @NEUSpeakout Instagram page, which presents resources for victims of sexual assault. Most notably, SARC also allowed her to collaborate with the Every Voice Coalition, a survivor-led organization that works with students to write and file their own laws. With Every Voice, she helped pass a law regarding sexual violence in the Massachusetts State Legislature, now codified as CH.337 and titled “An Act Relative To Sexual Violence On Higher Education Campuses.”
Flynn said her experience with SARC and Every Voice taught her a lot of valuable lessons.
“As students, we hold so much expertise,” she said. “We are the only people that know our student experience at Northeastern and [experience] relevant to sexual violence. … That expertise is super valuable and should be represented in conversations.”
Outside of campus life, Flynn did her first and third co-ops at Pine Street Inn, an organization that aids those experiencing homelessness. While her first co-op was in person, her latest stint at the organization, on its workforce development team, was hybrid due to the pandemic. Though it was challenging at first, she said it was a great learning experience and was interesting to see how the organization adapted.
“With this co-op, I really did grow a lot in my voice as a professional,” she said. “I had to learn how to better voice the concerns that came up, which I think everyone is navigating with COVID. … I was so glad to be on such a supportive, amazing team.”
Flynn said she’s not sure what comes next, besides some much needed family time. But as she reflects on the past, her work with SARC stands out as a highlight.
“I think that [SARC] is really where I ended up finding a lot of my passion. The club and the work we’ve done has grown so much just in the past few semesters,” Flynn said. “As a graduating senior, it’s been so amazing to see that work that our whole community has been a part of, and so it’s been really awesome to see that organization grow and flourish.”
Illustration by Avery Bleichfeld
Photo courtesy Lora Riehl
Lora Riehl may be graduating with a degree in graphic design, but some of her proudest moments come from her time beatboxing with Pitch Please, one of Northeastern’s two treble a cappella groups.
In 2019, Riehl and Pitch Please went to New York City for the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella finals, where she won the award for “outstanding vocal percussion.”
“The job that I get will not have music in it, and I’m going to miss that,” Riehl said. “I’m going to miss teaching music and beatboxing and performing with them. That was really the highlight of my time here at Northeastern.”...
Illustration by Avery Bleichfeld
Photo courtesy Connor Hamill
Arriving at Northeastern during the 2016 presidential election gave Connor Hamill the push he needed to choose his academic path. Torn between political science, journalism, international affairs and English, he felt the ever-buzzing world of politics calling him.
Now, in 2021, he is graduating with a degree in political science and a concentration in law and legal studies. His goal is to eventually enroll in law school, so he may further his dream of using his legal position to advocate for minority communities, particularly transgender youth.
“The big pipe dream is to be like a federal judge somewhere,” Hamill said. “It would be pretty cash money to be a Supreme Court justice or something like that.”...
Originally from New Jersey, Hamill started his journey at Northeastern studying abroad in Sydney, Australia as part of the N.U.in program. His exposure to a world outside of the United States inspired him to pursue minors in both French and international affairs. He is the current president of the International Relations Council, which is similar to a Model United Nations club.
“That's where I've spent most of my time, but we've done things like gone to the national Model Arab League and the international level competition,” Hamill said. “I've placed first in both of those and helped Northeastern place first overall. … A lot of fun times there too.”
Hamill enjoys welcoming others to the Northeastern community, as he is also a Husky Ambassador and a College of Social Sciences and Humanities ambassador. His friend, Ilze Greever, a third-year political science major, said Hamill is the kindest person she knows.
“I think Connor is the nicest person you could possibly meet,” Greever said. “He's going to make [people] feel calm and involved, and then also the dude's hilarious. I love his sense of humor.”
The pair met thanks to their mutual involvement in the International Relations Council, and they have been friends ever since.
When their traditional board game nights were put on hold due to COVID-19, Greever said Hamill took it upon himself to organize virtual game nights for their friend group, helping to maintain a connection even in quarantine.
Hamill is in the interview process for a job with a former co-op at the Department of Justice in the Southern District of New York. He worked there as a paralegal, and he hopes that he can return.
Looking back on his time at Northeastern, he says he is grateful for all that he has learned. His favorite class was a civil liberties course which, though challenging, set him on the path to where he is today.
“Being able to take this class really solidified my interest in civil liberties,” Hamill said. “I did not have a good time when it was happening, but I look back on some of those nights when we would be writing case briefs and stuff like that, up until 5 a.m. Looking back, it was quite the time.”
Despite it being an unexpected senior year, Hamill appreciates that being in Boston has provided him a sense of normalcy.
“At least I’ve been able to be on campus and in Boston for the last year, which has been nice because it's nice to end things on campus and in the college environment,” Hamill said.
For Alex Sosa, graduating with a degree in American Sign Language and psychology, her time on co-op at the Perkins School for the Blind has fueled a passion for helping deaf clients through occupational therapy skills.
Her own experience with health struggles has pushed her to work towards greater resources for people in need, especially when it comes to understanding their background and meeting them where they’re at.
“Yes, your job is to kind of help them heal,” Sosa said. “But I think at the same time you have to take into account their identity and how they grew up and the things they’re going through and give them the resources for them to grow and flourish. That’s really what I want to do....
When Shantavia Craigg, a fifth-year business administration major, was offered a co-op working at Amazon in 2019, she nearly turned it down. But, after several phone calls from her co-op advisor, Craigg changed her mind and says she accepted the position “on a whim.”
“That turned out to be, like, the best,” she said. “Because that’s when I learned about diversity and inclusion roles where you can help people, help create a seat at the table in tech — and get paid for it.”
During her first stint at Amazon, Craigg focused on event management and diversity recruitment. She was based in Seattle but traveled frequently, working events in Toronto, Vancouver, Las Vegas and Silicon Valley....
“I'm a low-income student, first-generation, so it was really big for me to be working in this big company and getting flown out,” Craigg said. “I had my own [company] credit card as a co-op.”
Craigg, who grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, arrived on Northeastern’s campus planning to become a buyer or work in some other part of supply chain management. But she found her interest in recruitment, events and social media while leading student organizations on campus, particularly Stepping On Another Level — Northeastern’s step team — where she took on an e-board position in her second year.
During the summer of 2020, Craigg balanced work and campus leadership as she returned to work for Amazon remotely and also founded AfroSpectrum, a club for Black students in the LGBTQ+ community. In the midst of last summer’s widespread protests for racial justice, she reached out to Northeastern’s LGBTQIA+ Center on Instagram to discuss ways to better support Black students on campus.
“I just remembered how, in my whole, like, coming into myself time, I couldn't find anyone else on campus or in the Boston area,” Craigg said. “I tried so hard. I did so much research. There really wasn't this space for people here.”
Craigg said it's been challenging to start a new club while the pandemic prevents in-person connection, but she is encouraged by the more than 70 signups AfroSpectrum has received so far. For one of the club’s first events, AfroSpectrum collaborated with Northeastern’s Council for University Programming to host Shea Couleé — a recent winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — on Zoom for a makeup tutorial and Q&A. AfroSpectrum also matched members with “quarantine buddies” to foster community during lockdown.
“I feel like I don't want to call [AfroSpectrum] an accomplishment or the thing I'm most proud of yet, because it's not where I want to be. When I imagined the club at the beginning, I wanted to have a really active, close family,” she said. “But that was harder to do over Zoom … because none of us have actually ever met in person. You don't even know what the bottom of anyone's body looks like — we're all just floating heads.”
Craigg was recently named a Huntington 100 honoree. After graduation, she plans to move to New York City to begin a full-time project management role at Amazon.
“A lot of [Craigg’s] accomplishments are really working toward making sure others have the opportunity she's had and been presented with, and that really drives and motivates her,” said Craigg’s friend Ntando Dube, a fifth-year philosophy major who is also graduating this spring. “A lot of her accomplishments, like the Huntington 100, have been because she’s essentially looking out for other people.”
“It's kind of a world turned upside down in a way, but I’m graduating into it. I guess it’s just time to send it.”
— Lisa Sherman
When Lisa Sherman came to Northeastern, she didn’t have a declared major, but she did have a declared love for sciences and math, which led her to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. Beyond her love for science, Sherman has always been drawn to the outdoors which she was able to explore further in college, even after moving from a small city in Minnesota to Boston.
“I always really enjoyed the outdoors so when I came to college in Boston, the natural next step was to look for some type of nature nearby,” Sherman said. “[Northeastern University Huskiers and Outing Club, or NUHOC] ended up being a really good fit. … That's been a really integral part of my undergrad.”
NUHOC is an outdoors club that goes on trips, primarily to their Loj in Shelburne, New Hampshire that was built by Northeastern students. Sherman has spent many weekends of her undergrad in Shelburne....
“I went on my first trip during my freshman year on a really freezing weekend in January, but I somehow had a great time even though it was super cold,” Sherman said. “I definitely remember that weekend because I didn't know what to expect.”
Now, Sherman is finishing a semester as NUHOC’s president. While she’ll be leaving the club to new leadership upon graduating, Sherman is not leaving the White Mountains behind. She is working on completing her “New Hampshire 48,” which involves hiking the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are 4,000 feet or taller.
Sherman’s experience with travel at Northeastern ranged from the three-hour drive to the White Mountains to studying abroad at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. As the vice president of development in charge of fundraising and finances for the Northeastern chapter of Engineers Without Borders, or EWB-NEU, she went to La Delicias, Panama, a rural community of about 280 people, to implement and construct a water distribution system in 2018.
EWB-NEU designs and constructs water projects in communities in Honduras, Panama and Uganda. The club has partnered with the community since 2015, and since Sherman’s trip, they have added a transmission main, a source box and a filter box to connect a third, more reliable source to the distribution system, Sherman said.
“That was a highlight of my undergrad experience. It was really cool to see work that we did ending up getting implemented in the real world,” Sherman said. “Just getting to meet all of the community members who we had been interfacing with and troubleshooting with and talking to for so long and then implementing the system. Being able to see running water come through it and seeing the reaction of all of the community at the end of that trip was just a really awesome experience.”
While her normal life was chock-full of adventure, the pandemic caused everyone to slow down, and Sherman said that quarantine taught her new skills.
“The pandemic has taught me a lot about resilience and how important interpersonal relationships are and maintaining those even from a distance. I'm a really bad texter and getting back to people is not my strong suit,” Sherman said. “It kind of highlighted for me how important it is to keep up with people and actively make sure you’re watching out for your friends and checking in on how they're doing.”
Sherman will be starting at Alloy Therapeutics in Lexington, Massachusetts in June as a part of its drug discovery services team.
“I'm really [...] excited to see what that door opens and how that progresses,” Sheman said. “It's a little nerve wracking to be like, ‘all right, I’m in the real world now.’ It's kind of a world turned upside down in a way, but I’m graduating into it. I guess it’s just time to send it.”
But she is ready to keep her other interests integrated in her life.
“I really do like to travel and hike and backpack and if I want to do a really long through hike, like the Appalachian trail, at some point, am I ever going to have time for that?” Sherman said. “Does the world ever slow down and give you the space once you start working out in the real world to take the time to do that?”
“Northeastern has its very humble and noble roots. ... I would like to see us go back to those roots.
— Yasser Aponte
In 2000, Yasser Aponte left his home in Puerto Rico and moved to Dorchester. Growing up in the city, he knew a different Northeastern University than what exists today.
“Before [Northeastern] got big, it was a blue-collar, commuter school. It was more affordable, and it was for regular students — not prestigious students, not extremely wealthy students,” said Aponte, who is graduating with a double major in international affairs and religious studies and a minor in urban security and resilience studies.
Aponte remembers hearing that the university started out as a community aid program to support the development of young, working-class men in the YMCA....
“Northeastern has its very humble and noble roots,” he said. “That’s why I love Northeastern and why I’m proud to go to Northeastern. I would like to see us go back to those roots.”
During the spring 2021 semester, Aponte was the secretary of treasury for the Northeastern Student of Color Caucus, a community ambassador for off-campus housing, a member of the service-learning street team and served as a presidential ambassador for the Office of Student Affairs. He took four classes while working full time at the Dorchester-based non-profit, Food Project.
During his first year, Aponte helped Northeastern’s dining workers unionize and earn higher wages. He also served as a resident assistant and in 2021, and he helped establish a program allowing student leaders of diversity, equity and inclusion to apply for work-study funds to be compensated for their work. After graduation, Aponte is moving back to Puerto Rico to fight for the Independent Nationalist Movement, which advocates for Puerto Rico’s independence from the United States.
Aponte said not many people in his community have the opportunity to graduate from high school, let alone college. He wants more people like him to have access to Northeastern’s resources, and he says he wants to prevent the degradation of local communities caused by NU’s expansion.
As a beneficiary of the institution and a member of a community threatened by its expansion, Aponte said he has to leverage his two identities.
“I love my community and my people. I can’t just be in the outskirts demanding change,” he said. “Sometimes you need to actively be inside the institution that you are fighting against so that you can implement actual change and mobilize the institution’s resources to broaden and bolden your message.”
As a presidential ambassador, Aponte represents the university at fundraising and admissions events. On one hand, he questions whether the university is tokenizing him as the “low-income Spanish kid from Dorchester doing well at NU to show parents how diverse [the school is],” but he also has a “deeply caring relationship” with that university and is filled with gratitude.
He said that he — much like the university itself — is a “ground up, grassroots example” of success.
“There is nothing else left to be achieved in terms of self-fulfillment — I’ve made it,” Aponte said. “It has nothing to do with monetary fulfillment. It’s in terms of me being happy. I’ve grown so much during my time at Northeastern. I know who I am. I’m happy with who I am, and thus, I’ve made it.”
Correction: Story was updated at 1:30 p.m. Friday May 14 to correct Shantavia Craigg's hometown. Craigg is from Silver Spring, Maryland, not Silver City.