October 15, 2019
The 2019 cohort of NYU Alumni Changemakers—whose backgrounds span professions, life experiences, and NYU schools—are bridged by a shared vision: to reduce suffering and bring hope. Selected by the NYU Alumni Association Board from crowdsourced nominations, these ten alumni devote their personal professional endeavors to the public good. Whether they’re striving to end sex-trafficking, developing new technology in medicine, or increasing female representation in government, these alumni are sprouting social change and shaping our world for the better.
Meet this year’s honorees whose accomplishments help build a better world, and keep good going by nominating the entrepreneurs and visionaries who will be named 2020 NYU Alumni Changemakers.
When Brenda Berkman was told she “failed” the physical portion of the FDNY test, she sued the City of New York to fight a biased system. Her legal victory—leading her to become New York City’s first female firefighter—paved the way for future women in service. But the battle didn’t end there. A trailblazer for women in historically male-dominated fields, Brenda knows that “change is a marathon, not a sprint.”
During Taina Bien-Aimé’s childhood, society was matriarchal and women were in charge. But the women’s rights movement in the 1970s offered a rude awakening to the realities of gender discrimination and sexual violence. Taina soon realized her ability to enact change and has spent the last 25 years raising up the voices of women around the world through legislation, including the development of policies with the UN and State Department. When faced with obstacles, Taina notes, “The resistance to change is fierce. Fortunately, so is our global movement.”
“Engineers are responsible for solving the world’s problems,” says Matthew Campisi, who was deeply impacted after a family member was diagnosed with breast cancer. When he learned of the shocking mortality rates for people with the disease in developing countries, he knew it was time to put his words into action.
As the second person ever to perform a heart transplant, Adrian Kantrowitz knew the importance of trailblazing technology and the human condition. Applying his inventive, problem-solving spirit to cardiology, he went on to save millions of lives and made unprecedented strides in medicine that will go down in history.
As the first trans woman of color to write and direct for television, Janet Mock understands what it means to pave the way forward. Her courage to speak her truth has inspired countless people, brought unprecedented visibility and representation to a historically marginalized community, and spread hope beyond imagination. Reflecting on her life, Janet notes, “I’m bringing others into spaces I’m invited into, transforming those spaces for the better.”
The Rwandan genocide descended on Jacqueline Murekatete when she was only nine years old. Her trauma and story of resilience lived in silence when she relocated to the U.S., until she befriended another survivor of atrocious violence and their commonalities united them. Together, they would go on to do joint speaking engagements worldwide with Jacqueline finding her purpose and helping other victims find their voice, saying, “We are all responsible for making a difference in this world.”
“I’ve never seen a system that didn’t badly need reform,” says Marcia Robinson Lowry, a lawyer who has spent more than four decades in the depths of our country’s child welfare system. Appalled by what she witnessed, she has applied her wit and legal eye to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of youths by welding the power of the courts to demand accountability from negligent actors. She aims big and she’s not backing down.
When a trip to Nicaragua revealed the extensive need for education in rural farming communities, Kristine Van Busum took matters into her own hands. Focusing on literacy, health and hygiene, environmental sustainability, and gender equality, she’s developed an organization that is revolutionizing lives on the ground. “The children taught me to let go of my ego,” says Kristin. “I’m not the one who can transform their communities. They are.”
“I want more than 51% female representation in government,” says Erin Vilardi, “That’s not just good for women. It’s good for all of us.” At a young age, Erin recognized the need for more female leaders and now her vision is coming true. The Founder of VoteRunLead, Kristin is recruiting and training women—especially low-income and rural women, and women of color—to run for office and impact society for the better.
Radical empathy is at the core of Lori Wiener’s approach to work. Her four-decade career of working with children diagnosed with cancer and pediatric HIV/AIDS has led her to transform the way children with life-threatening diseases are counseled, supported, and seen. When reflecting on the hardships of her patients, Lori says “for every sad story, I can tell you 100 of human courage, strength, and wisdom.”