Celebrating the Inaugural Class of
Visionaries—as Voted on by Fellow Alumni—
Who Are Working to Build a Better World
By David Hollander
Eleanor Baum (TANDON ’61, ’64)
Dean Emeritus of the Cooper Union School of Engineering
“People said I couldn’t be an engineer,” says Eleanor Baum. “It just wasn’t something women did.” But Baum excelled at math and science. She had an engineer’s soul, and becoming an engineer would be her life’s one great rebellion.
Working in the aerospace industry was just the beginning of Baum’s story. Determined to open the STEM fields to women, she returned to academia, where she fought to become the first-ever female dean of an engineering school, at Pratt Institute.
Three years later, Baum became dean at the Cooper Union Albert Nerken School of Engineering and saw the female student body increase from 17 percent to 30 percent. She helped change the way engineering is taught, insisting on project-based learning. Accolades include her 2007 induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. “You become an engineer because you want to change the conditions of society,” she says.
Danielle Butin (STEINHARDT ’85)
Founder and CEO of the Afya Foundation
When Danielle Butin traveled to Africa, she encountered the problem that changed her life: medical workers forced to watch patients suffer because of a lack of basic medical supplies. “It was heartbreaking,” she says. “I knew I had to do something.”
Butin’s solution was the Afya Foundation, a not-for-profit that delivers goods slated for destruction in US hospitals to people in need globally. Butin started the foundation with nothing but determination. (She kept scavenged items in a truck outside her home.) With an army of volunteers, she developed an infrastructure that nimbly responded to supply crises.
Since its inception, Afya has sent more than $35 million worth of humanitarian aid to 82 nations. By making volunteerism a part of the foundation, she has sparked a wave of altruism at home. “If there is a need to act,” she says proudly of her team, “we act.”
Hannah Dehradunwala (GAL ’16)
Cofounder and CEO of Transfernation
As an undergraduate at NYU, Hannah Dehradunwala often found herself at events catered for 200 but attended by a dozen. “There was all this really good food,” she says, “and at the end of the night it was thrown in the trash.” Throughout the city, people were going hungry. Why, she wondered, couldn’t A connect to B?
That question gave birth to Dehradunwala’s Transfernation, a first-of-its-kind food-redistribution nonprofit. Without a background in business or technology (“I went to school for art,” she jokes), she designed an app that links corporations to shelters, soup kitchens, and churches, creating a real-time pipeline that eliminates hunger and waste.
Transfernation has redistributed more than 220,000 pounds of food. Dehradunwala intends to bring the model to other cities and eventually go international. As she explains, “I’m trying to change the way people think about charity.”
Jacqueline Fawcett (MEYERS ’70, ’76)
Nursing Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston
“You cannot practice anything without some sort of theoretical base,” says nursing scholar Jacqueline Fawcett. Fawcett has spent decades exposing the “why” of patient care—the theoretical underpinnings of a nurse’s actions. Because of her work, illness is seen in a more complete context, which leads to more complete care.
It hasn’t always been easy. Fawcett has overcome the field’s resistance to theory through tenacity. She has taught students for more than 45 years; advised organizations and hospitals; and focused her most recent book—one of hundreds of scholarly publications—explicitly on translating conceptual models to real-world practice.
Because of Fawcett’s research, nurses don’t simply perform procedures; they understand them. They see patients as individuals—not as problems. She has improved thousands of lives, and her advice is simple: “Do what calls to you. And be persistent.”
Hernando Garzon (MED ’88)
Director of Emergency Management and Global Health at Kaiser Permanente
“The rewards of medicine are multiplied in crisis situations,” says Hernando Garzon. It’s a principle that has guided an extraordinary career. Garzon’s work as an emergency response physician brought him to Oklahoma City after the 1995 bombing, Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks, Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and West Africa after the Ebola outbreak. He has spent his life plunging into catastrophe and helping others survive it.
Now the global health program director at Kaiser Permanente, Garzon has developed clinical programs on three continents and routed hundreds of medical residents to disaster sites and human rights flash points globally while continuing his own disaster-response work (most recently in Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricane).
Garzon is honored often, but his goal has never been external recognition. “Doing service work,” he says, “increases the value of our lives.”
Scott Harrison (CAS ’98)
Founder and CEO of charity: water
“I was the worst person I knew,” says Scott Harrison, whose years as a nightclub promoter left him miserable and, in his mind, morally bankrupt. Reviving his Christian faith, he volunteered as a photojournalist aboard a hospital ship. He ended up in West Africa, where he realized how the lack of clean water links to poverty and disease.
So on his 31st birthday, he threw a party and charged $20 at the door. He used that money to repair and build wells at a refugee camp in Uganda and to found charity: water, a nonprofit that has provided safe water to more than 8.4 million people.
Harrison has mobilized more than 1 million donors to fund nearly 30,000 water projects in 26 countries and is determined to bring clean water to 100 million people by 2020. “If a nightclub owner hooked on drugs can help 8 million people,” he says, “imagine what others might do.”
Martin Hellman (TANDON ’66)
Cryptologist and Computer Scientist
When Martin Hellman entered the field of cryptography in the 1970s, it seemed a ludicrous career choice. The National Security Agency (NSA) had a stranglehold on relevant research, and the really interesting work was bound to be classified.
Yet Hellman helped to invent public key cryptography. You might not know the term, but without it there’d be no electronic banking, online shopping, or secure instant messaging. It’s what keeps digital exchanges safe from third-party interference.
Hellman’s early publications roused the NSA, and he risked prison. But he foresaw a need for a paradigm that supports billions of people. Awards including the Turing Award—the most prestigious prize in computer science—don’t define him. He has worked for decades to promote global security and nuclear disarmament. “Because what good are cryptographic algorithms,” he asks, “if there is no one here to use them?”
Jean Paul Laurent (DEN ’13)
Founder and CEO of the Unspoken Smiles Foundation
“It was tragedy that led me to activism,” says Jean Paul Laurent. Originally from Haiti, Laurent was an undergraduate at NYU when an earthquake devasted his homeland. The idea of pursuing a straightforward career in dental hygiene gave way to an urge to help.
That’s how the Unspoken Smiles Foundation was born. Dedicated to fighting tooth decay—first in Haiti, now globally—the organization brings supplies, volunteer dentists, and dental hygiene education to some of the most underserved regions.
The foundation has served more than 6,000 children in seven countries. Laurent plans to scale larger, increase staff, and develop partnerships with other organizations. He has also established a fellowship program that trains young women to provide care in their own urban communities. The goal: more smiles and less suffering for marginalized people. “Tragedy changed me,” Laurent says, “and now I’m changing the world.”
Hope Lewis (LAW ’09)
CEO of MORE Health
“I refused to accept doctors giving up on a young child,” says Hope Lewis, who was working in China as a finance attorney when a client’s 18-month-old daughter was diagnosed with liver cancer. Lewis suspected that the terminal prognosis came from an overburdened system, so she traveled Stateside to consult with renowned oncologists. Nearly a decade later, the little girl is cancer-free.
After this lifesaving venture, Lewis founded MORE Health. Using cloud-based technology, the organization gives underserved patients access to top-tier care without the prohibitive costs by connecting local physicians to US specialists.
Thanks to MORE Health, around 75 percent of those diagnosed with cancer—many with hopeless prognoses—have received new treatment plans. “Children shouldn’t have to come to the United States to have their lives returned to them,” she says.
Eduardo Rodriguez (DEN ’92)
Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone
“I thought I would get my degree in dentistry, go home to Florida, and practice,” says Eduardo Rodriguez. But traditional dentistry was not in the cards for Rodriguez, a celebrated reconstructive plastic surgeon at NYU Langone—and one of the world’s foremost experts in facial transplantation surgery.
“I was pushed [in] my career by people who saw more in me than I saw in myself,” says Rodriguez. That encouragement led to med school and a specialty in microsurgery. The watershed moment came while treating soldiers disfigured in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I wanted to know how to solve the problems I was seeing,” he says.
Rodriguez compares these paradigm-shifting face transplantation surgeries—which can take well over 24 hours—with the moonshot. “I wanted to do something life-changing,” he says. “I believe I am practicing the most sacred profession on Earth.”
To learn more, visit nyualumni.com/changemakers.