Elif Coskun’s most memorable Northeastern experience happened thanks to the University Honors Program and its innovative approach to education.
“My most memorable Northeastern experience was receiving the Honors Propel Grant. We applied for this grant in order to run an Effective Altruism fellowship at Northeastern,” Coskun, CSSH’20, said, recently reflecting on her time at Northeastern and in the Honors Program.
Throughout her time at Northeastern, Coskun participated in a Dialogue of Civilizations to Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina; co-op’ed at Harvard School of Public Health and Grantham, Mayo, van Otterloo; and was an Honors Ambassador, in addition to participation in Honors courses and programming. But to Coskun, the Honors Propel Grant provided the opportunity to lay the foundation to affect change on an broad interpersonal level.
“Being able to have access to such an amazing resource to create long-term change, knowing that this is a project that is going to continue to impact the world in a positive way even after I graduate, is the most amazing kind of experience I could have hoped for,” she said.
The Honors Propel Grant, one of the Honors Program’s newer initiatives, enables Honors students to engage in impactful, creative, and meaningful learning experiences beyond the classroom. The Honors Propel Grant for the Effective Altruism group was initially awarded to Aadya Kaushik and her colleague Kaleen Ahmid in order to bring together others interested in Effective Altruism and inspired by Prof. Patricia Illingworth’s Honors Interdisciplinary Seminar The Ethics of Philanthropy. Coskun joined the grant after participating in a summer EA fellowship at Yale, and continued with the initiative in the fall.
Part of the fellowship for Coskun was figuring out just what Effective Altruism was. “Effective Altruism is a philosophy and social movement that advocates using evidence and reasoning to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. It’s about using quantitative analysis to determine the most effective way of improving the lives of others given our limited resources. It does not prioritize certain causes over others, but prioritizes people,” Coskun said.
EA appealed to Coskun because of its centering of people and nature. “I see a great neglect towards our long term future, towards animal welfare, and towards eliminating global poverty. I believe effective altruism can be a way to understand the true scale of overall bad things that are happening globally, and has a potential to unite altruistic people,” she said.
This was why Coskun and some of her fellow Northeastern Huskies used part of the Honors Propel Grant to create a Northeastern group for EA – they saw its potential as a spark for their generation.
“I see many of my peers wanting to change the world somehow, wanting to make a positive impact on this earth, but they don’t know where to start,” Coskun said. “Effective Altruism can be the tool they use to not only see what needs most work, but also what is most achievable in the most efficient way possible. We are a generation of change-makers.”
Coskun saw success with the Northeastern Effective Altruism Fellowship in the fall of 2020, capping off her impressive undergraduate years at Northeastern. While at Northeastern, she went on a DOC to Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina which deeply affected her.
“[The DOC] taught me a lot. I learned the importance of getting information from true, local experts as we met with EU representatives, members of parliament, and presidential candidates. I learned the importance of gaining broader perspectives as we were visited by multiple cultural and ethnic leaders, oftentimes at opposing sides of a conflict,” she said.
It also reminded her that expanding her boundaries also rose the ceiling for her personal growth.
“This experience took me to a part of the world that is oftentimes forgotten and neglected- a place I would otherwise not go or think about, despite its regional and historical significance in shaping politics. It showed me a new side of traveling. I had traveled a lot with friends and family before my study abroad, but it was always for the sake of prioritizing my comfort. Traveling with a group of people I did not previously know, on a mission to not just see but learn, I saw that it was very different from what I previously thought traveling could mean,” she said.
Another positive experience that shaped Coskun’s time at Northeastern was her role as an Honors Ambassador. Honors Ambassadors are current Honors students who share their enthusiasm for the University Honors Program and Northeastern by serving as a representative of the program, participating in events for prospective and admitted students.
“The most memorable part about being an Honors Ambassador has been the chance to meet fellow students who are passionate about leadership and helping others navigate the Honors Program,” she said. “Honors Ambassadors tend to take a lot of advantage of the opportunities that are presented to them, and as I mentioned before, talking to someone who has already done something you are interested in is a great way to learn about it.”
As an Ambassador, Coskun knew something about taking advantage of opportunities and providing guidance to fellow Honors Huskies. What advice would she give to current Honors students?
“With so many options, we often forget how lucky we are to be in a unique position to explore and learn. I suggest talking to your Honors Advisor and letting them get to know you- this can help them recommend you things that they believe you’ll be most interested in. Also talk to your peers and upperclassmen about the things they are doing. If it weren’t for upperclassmen I met and talked to, I would not have seen the Propel Grant as a possibility for myself,” she said.
And, Coskun recommended taking advantage of college as a time to try new things. “Treat every opportunity not just as another line on a resume, but a chance to find out what you like and, more importantly, what you don’t like,” she said.
With the Honors Program at Northeastern, Coskun pushed the boundaries of what she could receive from an undergraduate education and how it could propel her into graduate school and beyond. “Through the Honors Program, I was able to take interdisciplinary courses and seminars which opened my eyes to the possibilities that come with working across disciplines. This showed me the value of interdisciplinary work, and pushed me to pursue a graduate degree that values this,” she said.
Coskun, who graduated with Honors Distinction in December 2020, began a Masters in Public Health at Boston University this spring. She will continue in her pursuit of improving lives everywhere with a focus on global health. Given her successes at Northeastern, we know she will accomplish anything she puts her mind to.