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All Grown Up

Remember the prospective students we featured in our fall 2005 cover story, "Apply Yourself" They certainly followed those instructions.

by Sean Hargadon

Northwestern magazine recently caught up with several of the students whom we first met as part of "Apply Yourself," our fall 2005 in-depth look at the University's admission process.

Here's what they're up to now:

Video: All Grown Up — Mari Fagel talks about her Northwestern career. See more videos from Northwestern News.

Mari Fagel came to Northwestern from Beverly Hills. As a prospective student she wrote "Why Northwestern?" an ambitious letter about her grand plans for college. An award-winning reporter and anchor on Northwestern News Network, member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and Dance Marathon veteran, Fagel accomplished a lot in her four years.

One of the highlights for Fagel was working on NBC's presidential election coverage as a runner at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul and the election-night rally in Chicago's Grant Park as part of NBC's Decision 2008 coverage.

"The election experience was incredible," Fagel says. "One night during the conventions I was standing right behind Tom Brokaw on the NBC platform, watching Caroline Kennedy give a speech, and I started crying because I just couldn't believe where I was. I was watching one of my idols speak, standing next to another idol as I listened. I couldn't believe how far I had come.

"Being at Invesco Field the night Obama accepted the party's nomination was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The crazy thing was that as a 20-year-old, I was witnessing the most historic Democratic convention, as an African American accepted the party's nomination."

Back in Chicago, Fagel worked with Fox News Chicago special projects reporter Mark Saxenmeyer on in-depth investigative stories. She spent five months researching a story on the effects of the Chicago Housing Authority's demolition of public housing, as measured by crime rates and patterns.

During senior year Fagel worked as a general assignment reporter at KSNT-TV in Topeka, Kan., for her journalism residency. While there she interviewed former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, three of Kansas' four U.S. congressional representatives and Sen. Sam Brownback.

"Northwestern fully, fully prepared me for what I want to do," Fagel says. "People at the station tell me how lucky I am to go to Northwestern. Thanks to Medill, I know how to edit, I know how to write, I know how to shoot, and I know how to be on-air. Medill has really prepared me."


Ella Yung, the Indianapolis native and former Center for Talent Development attendee, came to Northwestern because it would have allowed her to pursue medicine while also exploring the fine arts.

Yung, who hopes to work with autistic children, opted to pursue clinical psychology rather than medicine. "It's difficult to have to change your path, but it worked out in a way," she says.

Yung made a commitment to Dance Marathon during her Northwestern days.

Freshman year she served on the DM committee and also danced for "30 emotional hours straight. When you're up for 30 hours with 800 of your peers, you see the best and worst of people," says Yung, who adds that Dance Marathon best embodies Northwestern school spirit.

She served on the dancer relations committee for three years, helping dancers stay on target in terms of fundraising, and perhaps more importantly, keeping them motivated during those exhausting hours. "We were with them all 30 hours," she says. "We handled everything from security to bathroom runs to foot massages."


Chris Eckels, the aspiring actor from Roosevelt, in northeastern Utah, came to Northwestern after a chance meeting with Rives Collins, associate professor of theater and chair of Northwestern's theater department, convinced him that the University was the right place for him.

Eckels has been a presence on the theater scene, though not necessarily always onstage, ever since.

With interests in history and theater, Eckels capped his Northwestern career by directing a student performance of Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen, about a hypothetical meeting between Niels Bohr, a Dane who was half-Jewish and a leader in the global physics community, and his protégé Werner Heisenberg, a German and member of Hitler's nuclear fission program, and the conversation that demolished their 20-year friendship.

"It's a play about history, but I've come to realize it's also a play about family," Eckels says. "The important part of this story is the demolition of this relationship between Bohr and Heisenberg.

"They were student-teacher, mentor-protégé, father-son, friends, colleagues. This one night ruined it forever.

"The brilliance of this play is that it takes these two colossal figures and strips them down to their humanity. It presents them as flawed and imperfect."

Eckels, a theater and history major, directed the production as part of his honors thesis in theater, specifically exploring the practical application of history in dramaturgy, the art of play construction.

"Typically," Eckels says, "when a dramaturge makes a presentation on history, 98 percent of historical research goes out the window the minute he walks out the theater door — in favor of dramatic effect."

With Copenhagen, his first attempt at directing, Eckels hoped to incorporate dramaturgical resources to greater depth throughout the rehearsal process. In order to serve as the dramaturge, or literary adviser, for Copenhagen, Eckels studied original documents, letters, academic papers and various historians' opinions on the topic. "I had to understand nuclear fission well enough that I would be able to help the actors understand it," he says.

Eckels says his goal was not so much absolute historical accuracy but a production that was historically informed and historically grounded.

"I think that can only make for more compelling theater," Eckels says.

"I like theater that makes you think, theater that leaves things unresolved," he adds. "The theater that really excites me are the productions where the audience functions as a character.

"In Copenhagen, the audience acts as a scientist observing an experiment or a judge passing judgment. You can't sit idly by and watch this play."

In addition to studying multiple languages — including French, Spanish, Japanese and Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, as well as a smattering of Danish and German for Copenhagen— and running a soccer blog, Eckels also has worked as a research assistant to Dylan Penningroth, associate professor of history. Eckels looked at the participation of African Americans in the U.S. legal system between 1860 and 1935 for Penningroth's upcoming book. They found that African Americans used the courts for events such as divorce and inheritance, accounting for a larger portion of the litigants than had previously been assumed.

He hopes to combine all of his experiences in pursuit of his dream job — sports agent for professional soccer stars.


Brenna Rosenberg fell in love with the University when she came to Northwestern, saying, "I feel like I'm home."

That's not too far from the truth, considering she's the daughter of two Northwestern alumni, Penny Levin (WCAS77) and Phil Rosenberg (J75, GC77), and the younger sister of Sarina Rosenberg (J08).

Brenna, from the Philadelphia suburbs, made her own way at Northwestern. For about three months during spring quarter 2008 the biomedical engineering major traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, with the Office of International Program Development's Global Healthcare Technologies program.

While in Cape Town she and her fellow team members developed and successfully tested a prototype for a biliblanket, a portable device for the treatment of jaundice. (Jaundice, one of the most common health problems in the world, is associated with various levels of neural damage if left untreated. Read more about the team's biliblanket research.)

She also worked on a project to compile statistics and evaluate the efficiency of local health clinics in the Western Cape province, including in Khayelitsha, a poor township on the outskirts of Cape Town.

During her observation of the clinics, Rosenberg saw doctors and nurses reusing medical instruments, witnessed noncertified personnel making inaccurate diagnoses and chatted with people standing in dirty hallways for hours on end while waiting for care. She vividly remembers being overwhelmed after walking into an office filled with piles of unorganized files — inaccurate and poorly maintained medical records for a migratory population of people.

"It really opened my eyes to my desire to go into global health," Rosenberg says. "It made me realize that the better part of the rest of the world experiences a standard of care so much lower than that in the worst areas of the United States. ... You come to value what you get in the U.S. even more."

During the summer after her sophomore year Rosenberg trained as a first responder on a local ambulance program in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Back at Northwestern she worked as a training co-chair for Sexual Health and Assault Peer Education, an organization that aims to create open places to talk about health and medical issues. She trained SHAPE's peer educators and organized speakers and field trips.

Rosenberg plans to go into medicine and wants to work for health care reform, perhaps focusing on HIV/AIDS in Africa. After working in clinical research or pharmaceuticals, she plans to pursue a master's in public health as well as a medical degree, then work to ensure the right to health for the underserved.


Rachel Vaughn (above, on left), a senior from Kansas City, Mo., thrived at the University, filling her days with extracurricular activities.

Vaughn, a psychology major, competed in the literature interpretation division of collegiate speech and forensics with the Northwestern University Speech Team, which won the Division I national title at the National Forensics Association National Tournament in April. "The genre I compete in is like competitive acting," she says. "You take part of a play or story and perform it — in a business suit." It's the equivalent of a 10-minute one-person show.

"It has done wonders for my interpersonal skills," says Vaughn. "I love performing. I'm not into theater, but speech is a nice creative outlet for me. It has been an amazing networking tool, connecting me with students and faculty at universities all over the country."

A cancer survivor, Vaughn also works every spring on Northwestern's Relay for Life, an annual American Cancer Society fundraiser.

"At Northwestern there is this general idea that apathy is in the air," she says. "It's fulfilling to see people getting involved and wanting to fundraise for a good cause. And it's particularly important to me because I am one of the survivors."

Diagnosed with stage-one Hodgkin's lymphoma during her senior year of high school in 2004, Vaughn says her cancer has been in remission now for four years.

She also participated in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's House on the Rock campus ministry program for the African American student community.

"It allowed me to be stable, to keep myself steady and grounded," says Vaughn, who attended weekly Bible study and conferences. "To talk about being a Christian in college is not the easiest thing to do while being part of the main college experience. I feel I was able to keep my faith and enjoy the full Northwestern experience."

Vaughn also joined CaribNation to learn more about her late mother's Bajan heritage, served four years as a mentor with Project SOAR at the McGaw YMCA and attended nearly every Wildcat football home game. She admits she may have been a little overcommitted during the past four years.

"If I had to do it all over again, I'd whittle down a little bit and not try to tackle the world," she says. "But I believe that when you take on a responsibility, you make it work.

"As much as I'm here for the classes and academics, I've learned just as much from interacting with fellow students."

Video: Degree of Uncertainty — Okechukwu Chika, who has a position lined up with ComEd, talks about the uncertain job market with ABC7 in Chicago.


Okechukwu Chika (above, on right) enrolled in McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science's EXCEL program before his freshman year. The five-week summer program is designed to challenge minority students to perform at the top of their class. He has thrived at Northwestern ever since.

"I've grown up a lot being here," says Chika, who revitalized Northwestern's chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers as the organization's president. He turned the once-apathetic organization into an important tool for networking and a powerful organization for African American engineers. "We've changed the environment for black engineers here at McCormick," Chika says. "We've gone from being associates to being a family."

Under Chika's leadership, NSBE membership more than doubled. Thirty Northwestern members attended the NSBE national convention in Las Vegas in late March. They also brought along several members of the junior NSBE chapter that Chika helped to found at Evanston Township High School.

The Northwestern NSBE members act as mentors and give the ETHS students exposure to engineering on a collegiate level.

"We encourage them to go to college and pursue engineering," Chika says. "We have such amazing opportunities here at Northwestern. It's our duty to give back to the community, being blessed as we are."

Chika used his connections through NSBE to land a job with ComEd after graduation. When Willard Evans (McC77, KSM81), president of People's Gas Light & Coke Co. and one of the founding members of Northwestern's NSBE chapter, came to NSBE's spring banquet in 2008, he urged Chika to look up a few of his peers during Chika's internship at ComEd. Those contacts helped Chika land a full-time position for ComEd, where he'll be working on distribution projects for the Illinois electric utility that serves 3.8 million customers in northern Illinois.

Beyond engineering, Chika also served as president of Northwestern's chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, which led the successful effort to have Martin Luther King Day observed as a campus holiday and hosts the annual King Day candlelight vigil.

He says the diversity at Northwestern helped him grow.

"I have a great appreciation for the people here at Northwestern," Chika says, "and selfishly what it did for me to be exposed to different personalities, cultures, dynamics. It allowed me to further my maturation and garner a stronger sense of identity."


Katie Wright (above, far right), of Edina, Minn., came to Northwestern to pursue her dreams of directing a nonprofit focused on advocating for women and children.

To reach that goal, the co-director of College Feminists interned in Washington, D.C., with Feminists Majority Foundation, a national nonprofit for women. She also interned with Target Corp. (where her mother, Cathy Raines Wright [KSM78], is director of forecasting and financial goals).

The two internships might seem largely unrelated, but Wright, a social policy major (and member of Dance Marathon's 120-hour club), hopes to combine her interest in social issues with studies of efficiency to explore how to make nonprofit organizations run more like businesses.

"I'd love to work at a nonprofit, to be able to go to work every day and do something congruent with my values," Wright says. "At the same time, so many nonprofits are disorganized. I want to help them work more efficiently."

Next year Wright will work at Corporation for Enterprise Development, an economic development nonprofit in Washington, D.C., on a Northwestern University Public Interest Program fellowship. She ultimately hopes to work with a microfinance organization or in politics in Washington, D.C.

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