Millennium Fellows Make Change With Social Impact Forum
23 NYU Shanghai students were among over 4,000 university students worldwide who were awarded a Millennium Fellowship from The United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and Millenium Campus Network (MCN) to encourage students to make an impact in the world. The awardees were selected from over 44,000 applicants worldwide. Throughout the semester, they have been hosting training events, building connections, and designing social impact projects to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The NYU Shanghai Social Impact Forum, held last week, was an essential part of the Millennium Fellowship experience. Seven panelists from local non-profit organizations shared their experiences and insights into social impact. The event was an ideal platform for exchange of ideas and building an inclusive, supportive network of social changemakers.
Millennium Fellows and panelists at the forum
Chancellor Tong Shijun spoke at the event, emphasizing NYU Shanghai's commitment to making a meaningful impact. "In this era of globalization, our community members should be more aware of global challenges, especially the younger members," he said. "NYU Shanghai has benefited a lot from society, and in return, we should not only support and contribute to our society through ongoing efforts in teaching, research, and social service, but also by preparing young members for future work that creates a positive impact."
The panel guests shared their professional journeys in the nonprofit sector and what social impact means to them. Assistant Provost for Academic Affairs Diane Geng, who founded Rural China Education Foundation, shared how as a college student she was drawn to the issue of educational equity in rural China. "As I researched, met more people, and learned from them, I began to see how I could contribute…I would say it's a process that goes from questioning, learning, and eventually, impact."
Growing up watching her family members always helping neighbors, Karen Carrington was deeply affected by their belief that “everybody’s got some kind of purpose and a talent, and to live a fulfilling life, one needs to use that talent for good.” As the executive director of Heart to Heart, a charitable organization that sponsors Chinese children for heart surgery, she says she feels she is living out the values that were instilled in her as a child. “[I always feel motivated] because I have the best job in the universe.”
Shanghai Animal Rescue’s volunteer Helena Yuan Yue from (SAR), the Chi Heng Foundation’s Founder and Chairman Chung To, and Stepping Stones’ founder and director Corinne Hua also shared how their personal experiences inspired them to make a difference on issues they care about.
The panelists shared information about the projects they work on and the volunteer opportunities available in their organizations. They also talked about the very real emotional impact that volunteering has had on their own lives."We must admit that we are all addicted to the good feelings we get from making good changes to the world," said Corinne Hua.
Millenium Campus Network representative Nafis Hashmi and Christine Yen, who joined online, spoke highly of the NYU Shanghai fellows’ high engagement and deep commitment to the program. “We're uniting different students globally in this one platform towards this one goal - creating social impact,” said Hashmi.
This semester-long social impact program has given fellows independence to design and conduct their own social impact events and projects highlighting a wide range of issues. The fellows shared how the experience has widened their horizons and strengthened their leadership and communication skills.
Xu Xiaoqing ’26, spoke of the unexpected connections they’ve made with other fellows around the world. “Some fellows from Africa reached out to me, and it was the first time I got to know many African universities and the amazing social impact projects there,” she said. “I also learned a lot from the guest speakers about how they built up their NGOs.”
“These helped me step beyond my limitations and changed my view on making an impact,” she added. “This fellowship taught me that what matters is to get started. Even if there’s no profound influence in the short term, you'll see the change as long as you keep going.”
Xu brought this belief to her project, in which she aims to create a platform to share stories of HIV-affected people to ease societal discrimination. “I’ve been volunteering in a local NGO, joining their anti-discrimination projects. I’ve also expanded my prior research with my professor to make a questionnaire to learn about young people's knowledge regarding HIV/AIDS and people living with HIV,” she said. “I think learning from both perspectives can help reduce discrimination more efficiently. I’ve been making small progress each day, which I believe will take me to where I want to get.”
Zhang Siqi ’26 and her partner Yuan Zhiteng ’26 have been helping Shanghai’s migrant children and their parents access more information about Shanghai’s educational policies. Currently, families have difficulties planning ahead for their children's education, resulting in a high rate of school dropouts. To address the issue, Zhang and Yuan have been sharing information on policies with migrant families through local organizations.
“I felt the difference between conducting academic research and implementing a real project,” said Yuan. “In this case, field trips and interactions with industry professionals are better approaches to get efficient and accurate information - a valuable lesson learned.”
The students will graduate from the fellowship on November 17, but their social impact journey will continue. “This first cohort of Millennium Fellows has forged a significant foundation on which future students at NYU Shanghai will build,” Director of Global Awards and Scholarships Anna Kendrick said. “We hope their commitment to social impact will continue far beyond the brief time of the fellowship, shaping their paths, enriching their lives and creating widening circles of change in their communities and across the world.”