It's a bittersweet time every year—that moment when we have to say a fond farewell to our graduates as they begin the next chapter in their lives. So many will have achieved so much even before they set foot in Yankee Stadium on Commencement Day, and we look forward to seeing how they carry their NYU education with them into a world we know they will change for the better. Members of this year's extraordinary graduating class have built steel bridges, written manuals on civic engagement, and offered conflict analysis for the Syrian crisis, just to mention a few accomplishments—and we can't wait to find out what they'll do next. A few of their stories appear below. Please join us in offering our warmest congratulations to the Class of 2017.
Coming into NYU, Meghana Bansal knew she wanted to study business because it allowed her to combine her passion for economics, politics, technology, and media. But when navigating courses and career prospects, Bansal didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do with her business degree until she joined the Investment Analysis Group student club, where she learned that business was more than just numbers.
“The club taught me that business is not black and white—there are no right answers,” she says. “You have to research and make your case for all of your decisions.”
Bansal also served as the Stern Student Council’s Class of 2017 president and as a senior advisor for the Finance Society. Through her involvement in these clubs, she found out just how powerful the community is at NYU.
“At every stage of my college career, I’ve always found someone willing to help me or give me advice. I’ve formed really great relationships with people that I can turn to with any sort of personal or professional issue,” she says. “Stern has a wonderful culture of paying it forward—everyone has been helped in some way and wants to see that mentality trickle down.”
After graduation, Bansal will be joining Credit Suisse in their investment banking division, where she will work closely with tech, media, and telecom companies.
As for her advice for fellow graduating students, she says, “I hope that we’re happy and successful—whatever success means to you—but I’m not worried. I’ve seen over the past four years how resourceful and thoughtful NYU students are, and I know we’ll be okay.”
“It made me feel for the first time that I could do whatever I wanted.”
Days before the inauguration of President Trump, Aditi Juneja launched the Resistance Manual—an open-source, Wikipedia-style online resource for information about actions citizens can take on policy issues. Word spread so quickly on social media and in the news that by the following week, the law student had an army of 200 volunteers eager to collaborate on the project.
Within the first three months, a few hundred thousand people would use the site. “I wanted to make sure that people were informed,” says Juneja, who entered law school with an eye toward creating change from within the government. “I wanted to challenge the notion that the law is a special club for lawyers by making the information accessible to everyone. Policy impacts everyone’s lives, and we all have a right to know what our government is doing.”
With a comprehensive sweep—covering everything from state legislation and local elections to national concerns, like immigration—the manual enables anyone to learn about policy and take action. To reach the broadest audience, the manual is purposely written in a way that’s easy to read and understand. Juneja describes its political content as “moderate.”
Juneja’s law school experience gave her the confidence to embark on such an ambitious project. “Every time I wanted to pursue something—go to South Africa to research prosecutions of police violence, start the Disability Allied Law Students Association, take a class at Tisch—the answer was always ‘yes, we’ll find a way,’ ” she says. For Juneja, who has epilepsy, the support she received from classmates, faculty, and administrators was life changing: “It made me feel for the first time that I could do whatever I wanted.”
This fall, Juneja will work as an assistant counsel in a New York State executive agency, a position she landed after being awarded an Excelsior Service Fellowship, which is a state initiative to bring highly talented graduates into government service.
When Julia Langewis captained the Tandon School of Engineering’s team in the 2016 American Society of Civil Engineering’s Steel Bridge Competition, which drew aspiring civil engineers from across the country, she wanted the structure to be strong, cost-efficient, and built to exacting specifications per the contest requirements. But she was also determined to make it eye-catching and knew just the color scheme to use—shades of NYU violet.
Her school pride was not misplaced; that year the Tandon team advanced to the nationals for the first time in history. What made the victory even more notable was that virtually all of the fabrication, including welding, was done in-house by students—a rarity among school teams.
Langewis, a first-generation American from California, has long enjoyed hands-on engineering projects. While welding is a more recent skill set, she learned to solder in elementary school. Early on she was inspired by her Peruvian-born mother and Dutch father, both scientists who worked in the field of water quality and waste-water treatment, to use her knowledge for the civic good.
Langewis has won numerous internships, including a stint with the NYC Bureau of Water and Sewer Operations, and she counts among her most valuable experiences a job that sent her out to gauge a project’s effects on community members. “That really brought home to me the impact that engineering can make on the world and its ability to change people’s lives for the better,” she says.
Now preparing to begin her master’s studies, she has been the recipient of a Donald J. Murphy Memorial Scholarship, a John J. Kassner Scholarship, a Smilow Scholarship, and the Moles Student Award, among other prizes.
Langewis notes that she is carrying on something of a family tradition: “My maternal grandmother had five daughters, and she was determined that they be educated. Each of them completed college, some with the help of scholarships, and enjoyed successful careers.”
After attending NYU as an undergraduate, graduate, postbaccalaureate, and medical student, Micah Timen is uniquely acquainted with the “NYU way.” To Timen, that means learning from New York City’s diverse population, seeing failure not as an end but a beginning, and reflecting the values of a “private university in the public service” in his work and volunteering.
While Timen’s father—a physician—always knew his son would follow him into medicine, it took Timen a little longer to come to the same conclusion. As a graduate of the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, he first went to work as an associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Timen became a volunteer at New York Presbyterian–Weill Cornell, soon taking on the responsibility of rewriting the volunteer handbook protocol as well as training volunteers for new programs in different units. Buoyed by not only the support of his father but also his passion for medicine, service, and the appeal of an academic medical setting, Timen decided to leave the field of accounting and return to NYU for medical training.
As a member of the School of Medicine’s three-year MD pathway, an accelerated track for a select group of eligible students, Timen was guaranteed acceptance into the Department of Otolaryngology residency program at NYU Langone Medical Center at the time of his admission. “The three-year pathway allowed me to fully integrate into the department from day one, and really benefit from their research mentorship and guidance,” he says.
Timen coauthored and presented several abstracts at major otolaryngology conferences across the country, focusing on healthcare outcomes in areas where the data lags compared to fields with major public awareness, such as diabetes or heart failure.
“NYU helped me discover the best of my values—public service and openness combined with goal orientation and dogged resilience,” Timen says. “I look forward to putting those into practice as a resident at NYU Langone Medical Center.”
“I got interested in understanding how one’s race, ethnicity, or gender affects everyday experiences and how that psychology translates into electoral behavior and what we dub identity politics."
As a student at George School, a Quaker high school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Emily West developed a strong sense of community service—and of the importance of hearing disempowered groups. But it wasn’t until she arrived in New York City in 2005 as a freshman in the College of Arts and Science that she began to see how differences played out in people’s daily lives.
“I got interested in understanding how one’s race, ethnicity, or gender affects everyday experiences and how that psychology translates into electoral behavior and what we dub identity politics, says West, who graduates today from the Graduate School of Arts and Science with a doctorate in politics. “As a scholar, I’m trying to understand when those identities are politically activated and how factions can feel heard without creating division— can political messages break down barriers and help groups recognize their cross-cutting interests?”
Over the course of 10 years at NYU, where she also earned an MA in politics, West has explored the impact of identity in the United States and in various African nations.
West, who will soon be an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, has seen firsthand the dynamics of identity in electoral politics—she served as a data analyst at CBS News for the 2016 election, an experience that has broadened her perspective on identity in American politics.
Many observers see identity as purely divisive—but West is more sanguine. She acknowledges that, in the short term, identity can be a segregating force. But she also sees opportunity for growth.
“Historically marginalized groups are being brought into the fold of politics more explicitly than ever before, which is now creating division but may be an important step in the long term,” she explains. “The psychological appeal of identity politics can also be used to highlight people’s common interests and form effective electoral coalitions.”
“Attending NYU Dentistry gave me the knowledge and skills to fulfill my dream.”
Stephanie Colaiacovo knew from the age of 7 that she wanted to be a dentist. At 12, she began seeing an orthodontist, who further influenced her career path.
“As an adolescent I learned just how transformative orthodontics can be,” says Colaiacovo, who was born and raised in Toronto. “My orthodontist changed my life, and I knew I wanted to have the opportunity to positively shape other people’s lives in the same way.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science from McMaster University in Ontario, Colaiacovo chose to study dentistry at NYU because she felt it offered many possibilities beyond the classroom.
“One of the best things about the College of Dentistry is all the different doors you can open while here,” she says. “It has allowed me to seek out what I want and gain as much experience as possible in so many different arenas.”
A top student at the college, Colaiacovo has held numerous leadership positions, engaged in research, and worked as a teaching assistant. She has also participated in community outreach programs, including the NYU Dentistry/Henry Schein Cares Global Student Outreach to Nicaragua; the Flossing Between the Trees Committee’s cleanup and restoration of New York City parks; and oral health screenings throughout the city.
After graduation, Colaiacovo will pursue specialty training in orthodontics at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine. Following that three-year program, she plans to join a group practice, ideally in or around Toronto. She’d also like to teach and get involved in outreach programs that bring orthodontic care to underserved adolescents.
Whatever the future brings, Colaiacovo is ready to greet it with confidence. “Attending NYU Dentistry gave me the knowledge and skills to fulfill my dream,” she says. “I feel totally prepared for what-
ever comes next.”
Even in cosmopolitan areas, college students can find themselves in a “bubble” of university life—a circumstance Afraz Khan, who graduates today from the College of Arts and Science, understands.
“These days, it’s easy to isolate oneself and get stuck in the bubble,” he observes. “There’s certainly a large amount of apathy toward issues that aren’t relevant to our personal lives.”
Khan says that his determination to avoid this condition and build relationships with other communities has informed much of his undergraduate experience. He’s served as a resident assistant and an admissions ambassador, and he has also interned at both the Fulbright Commission in Buenos Aires and at Procter & Gamble’s European headquarters in Geneva.
This academic year, his education became even more global, if not more vital, than he could have ever imagined four years ago. As president of the NYU Muslim Students’ Association, Khan was met with new challenges this January—after an executive order was issued banning citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States (an action that was amended in March to include six countries while alleviating other restrictions). Both presidential orders were blocked in federal court.
In response, Khan’s leadership focused on university-wide efforts to bring communities together under what he calls “the universal principles of justice and equality”—a piercing of the bubble in ways that go far beyond personal growth.
“In my journey to comprehend the strengths of and unique challenges faced by the people around me, empathy and bridge building have become extremely relevant,” explains Khan, who facilitated a campus-wide event last year to raise awareness on the commonalities shared by Muslims and blacks in America.
Khan, who was among thousands of protestors at JFK Airport the day after the initial executive order was released, has also been affected by the support shown toward his own community.
“Seeing people who do not share my faith or background stand up for my rights has inspired me even more to push my community to recognize others’ struggles—those that aren’t necessarily identical to ours but are similar in many ways,” he says.
Katerina Siira has long possessed an unshakable commitment to serving others. “My passion for working with vulnerable populations began in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and continues today,” she explains.
After graduating from Skidmore College with a Bachelor of Arts in government and a minor in international affairs, she worked for five years with the International Rescue Committee in New York City, the Resettlement Support Center Africa in Kenya, and ECPAT International in Thailand. Siira then chose to pursue her degree at the School of Professional Studies’ Center for Global Affairs (CGA) because she was confident this academic experience would complement her professional background and pave the way to achieving her career goals and objectives.
“I loved the combination of theory and practice that CGA provided,” she says. “I have benefited greatly from professors with real-world experience who are doing amazing things and who are so generous with their time and professional contacts.”
During her tenure at NYU, Siira has maintained a 4.0 GPA while being actively involved in student groups and academic forums. She was named a School of Professional Studies dean’s scholar and was elected president of the CGA Peace and Conflict Transformation student group.
Last summer Siira served as a conflict analyst at World Vision International in Amman, Jordan—the culmination of a semester-long CGA workshop in applied peace building during which she was tasked with improving conflict sensitivity among major actors in the Syrian crisis. Siira utilized her years of field experience in humanitarian assistance and her newly acquired peace-building skills to pursue her desire to transform conflicts rather than to merely respond to them.
After graduating today with a Master of Science in global affairs, Siira will explore employment opportunities in peace building and humanitarian assistance in the international arena.
Zack Centrella has three tattoos on his left arm, the first of which says, “Weep not for the past, fear not for the future.” It marks his independence from a child welfare system that governed his life since he was taken from his addict mother at age 6.
“I wanted something inspirational. I have a lot to weep for and to be scared for, but I want to change things,” says Centrella, who—upon receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Tisch School of the Arts today—will be among the scant 4 percent of students from foster care who go on to earn a college degree.
After cycling through foster homes, Centrella was adopted and moved from his home state of Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. When his adoptive family later had a change of heart, he returned to a group home, but soon after he ran away. Then came juvenile hall, followed by more group homes.
Throughout these tumultuous times, Centrella’s most effective therapy was making music—a talent that ultimately inspired him to enroll at Tisch’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.
By his own admission, Centrella’s style at first was raw and jolting, inspired by his traumatic experiences and the influence of childhood rap heroes, like Eminem and Tupac Shakur. “I had a lot of anger that I didn’t even know what to do with,” he recalls.
What ultimately transformed his music for the better was revisiting his past in the foster care system. Centrella requested the government records from every state agency that managed his case, then he forced himself to read the case notes. “I finally confronted a lot of things that I blocked out,” he recalls.
This inspired the second tattoo: a variation of what’s known as the adoption triad, which depicts a heart inside a triangle, but with the triad broken.
Centrella will be documenting his experiences in a narrative visual album entitled Happy Home. The newfound ability to tell his story the way he wants to helped inspire the third tattoo—a depiction of St. Michael conquering the devil. “It feels right because I’m a much better artist having been here,” he explains. “The whole experience has completely changed my life’s direction.”
“When I was 11 years old, my grandmother was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease—a rare degenerative neurological disease that affects one in a million,” recalls Angela Vilasi.
So when she arrived at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing, Vilasi sought to help figure out why her grandmother was afflicted with this rare disease and its associated comorbidities.
“Even at the age of 12, I would wonder if her sleep apnea did not allow enough oxygen to her brain, causing her dementia,” she says.
As part of her College of Nursing experience, Vilasi began working as a research intern at NYU Langone’s Center for Brain Health (CBH), studying the correlation between sleep disturbances and Alzheimer’s disease.
“This parallel was exactly what CBH was diligently working on finding more about, and I wanted to be part of such a committed team,” says Vilasi, who also served as president of the Undergraduate Nursing Student Organization.
Vilasi says that early on, the internship made her realize that nursing has endless possibilities. Her interests kept building and pushed her to enroll in the dual degree master’s program in psychiatric and mental health nursing.
While she’s still deciding what she’d like to specialize in, Vilasi says she couldn’t be happier with her decision to pursue nursing.
“I have quite a few faculty members who have inspired me so much as men-
tors that I hope to end up where they are someday,” she says. “I hope to teach and inspire students to chase after the limitless opportunities we have as nurses.”
“It just hit me then—economic and social development in Nigeria and really throughout much of Africa simply hadn’t advanced."
At age 10, a rise in instability in her native city of Lagos, Nigeria, prompted Ademide Adefarasin’s parents to move the entire family to England, where she attended the University of Warwick as a double major in management and chemistry.
But after graduation, Adefarasin returned to Lagos and worked as an Accenture consultant to the Central Bank of Nigeria and other organizations. During this experience, something happened to make her realize that distressingly little progress had taken place in Africa’s most populous metropolis.
Adefarasin says she found herself in a car sporting leaves and branches tucked under the windshield wiper, the informal signal to the authorities—amid street protests against a government decision to raise the price of gasoline—that the vehicle’s occupants posed no threat of violence.
“It just hit me then—economic and social development in Nigeria and really throughout much of Africa simply hadn’t advanced,” recalls Adefarasin, who graduates today with a Master of Public Administration from the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
After six years with Accenture, she searched for a graduate school where she could study international policy and management. She began at Wagner under the African Women’s Public Service Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship program made possible by a donation from the Oprah Winfrey Foundation.
The “Oprah Scholar” enriched her professional experiences with NYU Furman Center graduate research and teaching assistantships as well as an internship with the International Finance Group in Washington, DC. After traveling to Mumbai as part of her capstone consulting project for the World Bank Group, she’s now poised to return to her homeland.
Adefarasin looks forward to a wide variety of options and opportunities in public service, resolved to help her native Nigeria and other parts of Africa develop its public sector and economy for the good of all people. As she explains, “That’s definitely the North Star.”
As one of the few first-year students to be awarded Gallatin Global Human Rights fellowship, Angie Liao’s concentration—human rights law and human expression—rapidly took shape.
When she traveled to Beijing to perform advocacy work for Chinese migrant workers, she says, “It was incredibly exciting. I quickly realized that the rest of my undergraduate studies would center on human rights.”
It was one of many travel and research opportunities that defined Liao’s undergraduate years at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. As she receives her Bachelor of Arts today, her research, independent study, and community-based work has spanned the world—including Australia, South Korea, Brazil, Colombia, Poland, and Washington, DC.
In addition to her Gallatin fellowship, her honors include a Dean’s Award for Summer Research, an NYU President’s Service Award, and a Humanity in Action Fellowship, among others. She also interned at the International Center for Transitional Justice, International Refugee Assistance Project, and the School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.
“Law school is in the cards,” Liao says as she looks ahead. First, though, she wants to perform community-based work with low-income immigrants.
Liao’s dedication to community building reflects her dynamism. From her native Chicago, she brought with her a love of ballet, dancing as a member of Gallatin’s Dancers/Choreographers Alliance.
Accustomed to forging her own path, Liao says she was drawn to Gallatin’s individualized approach to education. “I always knew I wanted freedom and to take responsibility for my own education,” she says. “I was able to do that here, so it was the best program I could have found.”
“I figured out that the best way I can create change is through education."
As a senior in high school, Oriana Miles was admitted to NYU to study psychology. But when she learned that her beloved drama teacher was retiring, she had a change of heart. What would happen to the theatre company that had such a profound effect on her and was a staple of Schenectady High School’s artistic community?
Miles promptly walked to her guidance counselor’s office and began the process of transferring into NYU Steinhardt’s educational theatre program—the first step on a path to prepare her for a future of teaching theatre.
Theatre has always been an important art form to Miles, given its ability to foster empathy. But Miles also sees it as a transformative tool to engage students in subjects like social studies and science, using drama in history lessons about the American Revolution or helping students take public speaking skills from the stage to an interview.
Over the past four years, Miles has grown as a theatre professional herself, taking on roles both onstage and off. As a playwright, she wrote about the experience of being a person of color at NYU, weaving together interviews with members of the campus community with her own personal stories.
As assistant director and stage manager of Shakespeare to Go, a Steinhardt educational theatre outreach program, Miles helped bring modern adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Twelfth Night to New York City schools. But her most exciting role is still in the future—as a teacher. “I find myself daydreaming about what my curriculum will be like one day,” Miles says. She embraces a student-centered approach to teaching called culturally responsive pedagogy, which helps students connect course content to their own cultures.
Next year, Miles will continue at NYU in a one-year master’s program in educational theatre. Then she hopes to return to Schenectady to take the reins of her high school’s theatre program. “I figured out that the best way I can create change is through education,” she says.
“It can empower ordinary people to do extraordinary things.”
After earning dual degrees—in political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies— from Yale University, Mirtala Sanchez was eager to trade New Haven for New York City. While the Big Apple can be daunting and lonely for newcomers, Sanchez dove right into her new community upon arriving at the College of Global Public Health (CGPH). Sanchez was drawn to NYU’s Center for Multicultural Education and Programs and also served as campus leader for the Gates Millennium Scholars. With her newfound friends and classmates, she cofounded the Health and Human Rights Association at CGPH.
Such community building comes natually to Sanchez, who was used to making friends with the locals in her hometown in El Salvador. There, she talked to the diverse patrons at her father’s bar and was fascinated by their stories. Hearing from members of the LGBT community sparked her interest to better understand how they interact, navigate, and negotiate their lives.
Sponsored by the Gallatin Global Fellowship in Human Rights, Sanchez landed an internship with an LGBT-based organization in El Salvador. She later traveled abroad for her capstone project exploring an HIV prevention program in Ukraine.
By crafting a unique academic trajectory, Sanchez was able to follow her passion and study social, behavioral, and cultural differences. She found that CGPH combined public health research, social justice, and the people whom she cares deeply. The experience showed her that research can move policy and result in structural changes to dismantle oppression and inequality, ultimately improving and saving lives.
“Public health is rooted in social justice and strongest when activists and local communities are involved,” she says. “It can empower ordinary people to do extraordinary things.”
“From the time we are very young, almost all of us are conditioned to accept the existence of oppression."
As a child, Yuetong (Chloe) Li’s parents warned her that “the universe is not fair”—but she has yet to accept that notion.
“It’s hard for me to make peace with that, and this is partly why I sought my Master of Social Work degree,” she explains.
More than two years ago, Li gave up a well-paid job at an international technology company in Beijing and applied to the Silver School of Social Work. With the degree she receives today, Li aims to work for a university to support social justice, diversity, inclusion, and international students like her.
Li is known by her friends around the world as Chloe, the name she picked for herself in college. She grew up in Heilongjiang, a province of mountains, oil fields, and midsize cities in northeastern China, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Communication University of China, where she majored in Swahili in light of her interest in Africa and foreign languages. After graduating, she worked five years for the Fortune 500 company Lenovo, where she advanced to program manager.
During her first year in the Silver School’s global MSW program, Li studied at NYU Shanghai. Through fieldwork placement, she assisted elderly parents struggling with the terminal illness or death of their adult child, leaving them grieving and absent a child to care for them due to China’s one-child policy.
Returning to Washington Square for her final year of study, Li worked as a social justice and diversity intern at the Silver School. There, she spearheaded an innovative conference, which featured social work students who competed for the chance to present their creative approaches for bringing social justice and diversity to direct practice.
“From the time we are very young, almost all of us are conditioned to accept the existence of oppression,” Li says. “Yet societies do evolve and can progress. It’s something we can all work on and something I feel highly motivated to focus on professionally.”