Making a Difference: Pathways to Social Impact Careers

October 23, 2023

Alumni panelists Helena Burgueño ’19, Michael Simmons ’06 and Yinan Zhang ’12 discussed their pathways to careers in social impact and public service. The event was moderated by Michael A. Elliott ’92.


Alumni Panel Discussion

Alumni panelists Helena Burgueño ’19, Michael Simmons ’06 and Yinan Zhang ’12 discussed their pathways to careers in social impact and public service. Moderated by Michael A. Elliott ’92, this event celebrated the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to campus for the dedication of the College’s Frost Library and the historic address he delivered on that occasion on power, politics and the importance of public service.

The anniversary of Kennedy’s visit serves as a fitting launch for one of President Elliott’s strategic priorities for the College—encouraging members of the community to serve the greater good. The initiative aims to rededicate the College to preparing students for a lifetime of contributing to the greater good in their professional and personal endeavors and building a campus community that makes room for both disagreement and connection—one that practices the kind of recognition and negotiation that the everyday life of democracy requires.

Alumni Panelists

Helena Burgueño ’19, Creative and Video Producer, Unify America

Helena graduated magna cum laude with a degree in film and media studies and a Five-College Certificate in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, an amateur stop-motion animator and plays the French horn in a glam marching band called Clamor & Lace Noise Brigade. Helena currently lives in Chicago, where she serves as the Creative & Video Producer for Unify America, a nonpartisan nonprofit on a mission to replace politics with problem solving.

Mike Simmons ’06, Senator, Illinois General Assembly

Mike has committed his life to advocacy and public service. He is dedicated to amplifying the voices of seniors, refugees, the transgender community, people experiencing financial instability, single mothers and other silenced voices in our democracy. He is the first Black person to serve the 7th District, the first openly gay member of the Illinois Senate, and the third openly gay, Black state senator in the nation. Mike Simmons is a trailblazer for the 7th District and statewide. In the 103rd General Assembly, Simmons serves as Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Vice Chair of the Behavioral and Mental Health Committee and is a member of the Education Committee, Transportation Committee and the Appropriations’ Health and Human Services Committee. He also served as Deputy Director of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, an initiative of the Obama Foundation, a group seeking to break down the barriers to opportunity standing before boys and young men of color.

Mike has been honored with awards such as: Crain’s Chicago Business’s list of “40 Under 40” (2020), Crain’s list of “Chicago’s Notable LGBTQ Executives” (2019), Leadership Greater Chicago award (2016), IMPACT Leadership Development Program award (2016), Windy City Times’s “30 Under 30” list (2012).  Additionally, he served as a board member of Equality Illinois (2010–2016) and was a co-founder of the New Leaders Council Chicago.

Yinan Zhang ’12, Operations Officer, The World Bank

Yinan is an operations officer at the World Bank South Asia Regional Integration and Engagement unit. She currently manages a $63 million program to support joint climate action and building climate resilience in South Asia. She has over a decade of experience working in the development field. Previously, she worked in the Development Finance Trust Funds and Partner Relations unit at the World Bank as a core team member, delivering the 2017 Trust Fund Annual Report and supporting the World Bank Trust Fund Reform. She also worked on the Ebola response in the education sector in Sierra Leone and Liberia, early childhood education in China and vocational education in East Asia and the Pacific. She is the co-author of the bilingual book Challenges and Opportunities: Early Childhood Education in Yunnan. Yinan holds a master’s degree in international education policy from Harvard University Graduate School of Education and a bachelor's degree in economics and Spanish.