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Northwestern University

Un-Common Thinking: How Do You Want to Change the World?

Sandra Waxman

Professor of Psychology

Babies are born with an incredible cability and capacity to learn. Our studies have shown that at three months of age, listening to language boosts an infant’s cognitive capacity. How can we build on that boost? Babies are very sensitive to the world around them. As a developmental scientist studying the effect of language on infants, I want to advance our thinking about what kinds of environments will best support learning in all of the world’s babies.  

Tara Mittelberg ’17

Environmental science and international studies major, and winner of the 2016 Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant

People get so passionate both for and against genetically modified crops (GMOs). I want to broaden those conversations so that we can make better decisions.

I’m traveling to six nations this summer and talking to farmers and researchers to see which technologies are and aren’t working with local crops. Every country has different science, a different story and different people. The conversation around GMO crops is largely pro-versus anti-GMO, yet it’s much more complicated than that. You can’t just transplant a certain crop or gene or strategy to every place. By facilitating conversation, I hope to help make crop biotechnology available in the best ways possible by adapting it to local needs, customs and beliefs.

Brian Edwards

Crown Professor in Middle Eastern Studies, Professor of English, Comparative Literature and American Studies, and Director of the Middle East and North African Studies Program

For someone whose work focuses on the Middle East and North Africa, changing the world sounds, perhaps, Pollyanna-ish. But I’m an optimist! My goal is to change the conversation. I’m trying to change the ways Americans understand a frequently misrepresented part of the world.

I’m convinced that culture and media have a profound influence on geopolitics. The narratives we use to represent the Middle East remain stuck in old patterns and inaccurately frame the way we understand the region. This informs and influences political decision-making. In my new book, After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East, I show how young people in cities such as Casablanca, Cairo and Tehran engage with and remake American culture in ways that are sometimes unrecognizable to Americans. I’m committed to exploring these dynamics and offering fresh perspectives on a complex and cosmopolitan part of the world.  

Terry O’Neill ’75

President, National Organization for Women (NOW)

NOW is a grassroots advocacy organization, but it’s not the 1970s anymore, and we are doing things differently.

This past summer, after three and a half years of debate, we changed our statement of purpose to emphasize our commitment to intersectional grassroots organizing. Different women experience things in different ways. For example, there’s an overall gender wage gap — women on average earn 74 cents to a man’s one dollar — but there’s also a gender-race wage gap, where black women earn 64 cents and Latinas earn just 53 cents to the dollar. By being culturally informed, whether it’s about race, gender, class or sexual orientation, NOW is addressing these inequalities and challenges. 

Mark Silberg ’14 

Founder, Spark Clean Energy and Network Manager, Electricity Innovation Lab, Rocky Mountain Institute

The pollution we’re putting into the atmosphere is extinguishing species at an alarming rate. Many of these species support human life. This requires us to take action. 

At Rocky Mountain Institute, we’ve shown that transitioning to a fully decarbonized economy with zero net greenhouse gas emissions is plausible. Electric cars, as well as wind and solar and similar technologies, are today cost-competitive. RMI is also working toward decarbonization through policy and regulatory changes. Within my working lifetime, I’d like to make all of these changes inevitable and accelerate them [so that] we exceed anyone’s predictions of success. 

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