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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Northwestern Buffett Helps Prepare Undergraduates to Meet Pressing Global Challenges

Muhammad Wasay Mir (Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Qatar ’24) works with a local community organization in Jinja, Uganda during the 2023 Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) program facilitated by Northwestern Buffett’s Global Learning Office.

The Northwestern Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs serves as a hub of connectivity that fosters collaboration across sectors and traditional silos of expertise, geography and culture to meet our world’s most pressing challenges. At its core, Northwestern Buffett is a community of faculty, staff and students committed to making our world a better place through collaborative teaching, research and problem solving. Undergraduate students at Northwestern University are an important part of this community working to examine and contribute to addressing shared global challenges.  

As home to Northwestern’s Global Learning Office, the Office of Global Safety and Security and the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, as well as programs to support student research and professional development, Northwestern Buffett fosters undergraduate student learning across cultures, languages and disciplines.  

Catalyzing transnational research  

Northwestern Buffett offers unique undergraduate research opportunities through an annual Idea Incubation Process, which brings together faculty from across disciplines to address critical global challenges ranging from climate change to water insecurity to gender equality. During the 2022–23 academic year, 28 undergraduates from the Northwestern McCormick School of Engineering, Medill School of Journalism, School of Communication and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences served as research assistants for one of Northwestern Buffett’s Global Working Groups established through the Idea Incubation Process. 

Andrew Watson, a junior studying Biology and Chemistry, is an undergraduate research assistant to Northwestern Buffett’s Antibiotic Resistance Global Working Group co-led by Mehreen Arshad, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, and Erica Hartmann, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Northwestern McCormick School of Engineering. Their group aims to coordinate responses to antibiotic- and antifungal-resistant infections—which have emerged as the third leading cause of death globally—through research and partnerships across academic, political, pharmaceutical and medical institutions worldwide.

Andrew Watson (Weinberg '24) is entering his second year as an undergraduate research assistant to Northwestern Buffett's Antibiotic Resistance Global Working Group.

The interdisciplinary nature of Global Working Groups’ research has cultivated Andrew’s skills both within and outside his majors. “The most interesting part for me is the intersection between computer science and biology,” said Andrew when reflecting upon his work for the group thus far. “There are a lot of ways that I hope it will be impactful. The projects I’m working on will help inform physicians about when and when not to use certain ubiquitous disinfectants, for example. If insights come out of our project trying to predict resistance from usage, I’m hoping those insights will help ultimately save lives.”  

Andrew’s work with the Antibiotic Resistance group helped set him on this professional trajectory. “I started working at Hartmann’s lab before I decided to do medicine, and I’ve felt myself gaining confidence in doing this research. It kind of put me in that mindset of, ‘This is something that’s really cool that I want to pursue.’” Andrew is now on the pre-medical track and aims to enroll in medical school after graduating.  

Facilitating international education and cultural exchange

Northwestern Buffett also provides a range of global learning opportunities that enable student growth and development beyond campus. Northwestern Buffett’s Global Learning Office (GLO) leads this work, offering credit-bearing study abroad programs as well as international internships and service-learning opportunities like the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI). Through GESI, undergraduates engage in experiential learning for a summer in countries ranging from Uganda to Vietnam, where they stay with a host family and complete an internship with a local organization advancing community-driven change. Students’ projects during their GESI internships have ranged from bolstering local HIV prevention efforts to promoting community development through rural tourism. Northwestern Buffett offers scholarships to dozens of undergraduates each year, enabling them to travel abroad for a summer experience that many participants have described as transformative.

“I’m super grateful that I could be part of a research project as important as this one,” said Evains Francois, whose undergraduate experience culminated with the 2023 GESI program. He graduated from the Northwestern McCormick School of Engineering after the program’s end with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. “I traveled to the beautiful mountains of Ecuador to collect water samples and test the quality of macro invertebrates in the water. In the sites near the mines, I could clearly see the effects of contamination.” In the video he created about his GESI experience, he reflected on the projects he supported to address water contamination in the area. “I felt proud that I could help with the construction of a biofiltration system for the purification of black and gray was the perfect way to apply the things I learned in college,” Francois said.

Evains Francois (McCormick '23) collects a water sample in the mountains of Ecuador during the 2023 GESI program.

This innovative program has garnered national recognition. Northwestern was among only three institutions in 2022 to receive the Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award for Campus Internationalization in recognition of GLO’s work to adapt GESI to a virtual format amid pandemic-induced limits on international mobility. The virtual iteration of GESI helped over 100 undergraduates participate in remote internships with 30 organizations spanning nine countries in 2020–21.  

On campus, Northwestern Buffett provides mentorship to globally focused student groups that join its Global Engagement Coalition, which convenes undergraduate student leaders for twice-quarterly workshops designed to develop their capacities for collaborative, global leadership. Facilitated by GLO, the workshops explore ethical principles for global learning and research dedicated to advancing progress toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).   

Another co-curricular program, the GLObal Co-Lab, pairs up students studying abroad in different countries to discuss intersections among the cultural, social and political issues they experience in their host communities. Participating students are tasked with developing a visual archive to document these experiences and their intersections with one another. From these archives, students collaboratively curate a photo essay with their partner that centers around one or more UN SDGs.  

Jonah Michel, a senior majoring in Environmental Science with a minor in Entrepreneurship, was a part of the program’s inaugural cohort. He studied abroad in Ecuador in fall 2022 and was paired with a student studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Climate action connected all of our photos,” he said, although they explored this UN SDG from vastly different angles given the local contexts of their study abroad programs.

A young boy living in an Amazonian community performs a native dance.
Photo credit: Jonah Michel

“[My partner] went to Wimbledon and had a talk with the communications team there about how to incorporate sustainable practices in advertising,” said Michel. “I spent the last month of my program doing an independent research project where I worked with a conservation and research foundation to study birds, so I was in a rural homestay in the cloud forest of was very cool to see how other people were viewing the world at the very same time that I was.”  

Northwestern Buffett helps students engage in global learning experiences beyond graduation by organizing the University’s annual Fulbright Week, which offers a window into Fulbright grants that support research, study or teaching abroad. During Fulbright Week, students make new connections to support them in the application process, increasing their chances of success, and Northwestern was named a Fulbright Top Producing Institution by the U.S. Department of State for the 19th consecutive year in 2023.  

In addition, Northwestern Buffett’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS) supports the University’s ever-growing body of undergraduates from abroad by advising, advocating on behalf of and developing cultural exchange programming for international students on campus. During OISS’ annual events like International Student Orientation, undergraduates meet their OISS Advisor, learn about immigration requirements, prepare for the academic year and make connections with other international students through group meals, local shopping trips, a tour of downtown Chicago and more.

OISS’ International Peer Advisors convene at residence halls during International Student Orientation to welcome incoming undergraduates from abroad. 

Fostering transnational dialogue

Northwestern Buffett also offers students opportunities to hear expert perspectives and engage in dialogue on pressing global issues through fireside chats, book talks, the “Breaking Boundaries” podcast series and more. Undergraduate Maelys Bory, an exchange student majoring in political science at Sciences Po Paris, expressed her appreciation during her time on campus for the opportunity Northwestern students have to hear from global leaders like Beatrice Fihn, former executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons who visited Northwestern Buffett for a fireside chat in spring 2023. During the discussion, Fihn reflected on the urgency of global nuclear weapon prohibition amid Russia’s war on Ukraine, and her words resonated with Bory. “It’s not a mere risk, it’s not a small thing we can just live with and have in the back of our minds,” Bory said in an interview with The Daily Northwestern after the event.

The Northwestern Buffett Institute hosted Beatrice Fihn, former Executive Director of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, for a fireside chat in spring 2023 moderated by Northwestern Buffett Executive Director Annelise Riles.

This fall, undergraduates at our events have explored and discussed state of the art applications of quantum computingthe global rules of art and France’s former President François Hollande’s insights into current global affairs and crises. Northwestern Buffett’s events are open to the public and offered in both in-person and virtual formats for a global community. Learn about our upcoming events >>