California State University, Northridge graduate students Melissa Baghoumian and Gaby Mahgerefteh admit that when they enrolled in CSUN’s “Leadership for Managing Reform in Higher Education” class this fall, they thought that, at most, they would be taking part in mock exercises tackling persistent challenges in higher education.
Instead, they, along with fellow education graduate students Jocelyn Lagunas and Sergio Lopez, developed a real-world campaign to support a shelter that provides assistance—including a place to live and learn—to teen mothers and their children in Indonesia. Their efforts have been honored by the James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation, which singled out the CSUN students as part of its “Luce 24 Under 24” 2023 cohort.
“These men and women have shown great potential for uplifting humanity through their projects and leadership,” said Jim Luce, founder and C.E.O. of the foundation, in a letter announcing the honor. “Our foundation is proud to recognize their work and enable the winners to reach greater heights through their work.”
Mirroring the Forbes 30 Under 30, the Luce 24/24 recognizes young game-changers who are making “innovative contributions to humanity.” They were chosen, Luce said, for demonstrating their potential to positively alter the trajectory of the world.
Baghoumian and Mahbgerefteh said they and their teammates were honored to be included in the cohort.
“But what is even more wonderful is that we know that our project will truly make a difference in people’s lives,” said Baghoumian, 46, a single mother of two from Northridge. “It’s humbling just knowing that what we do can really have an impact. I’m so glad it wasn’t a mock exercise.”
Their project includes the renovation of a family home in a mountain village in Minahasa, North Sulawesi, Indonesia.
“Our goal is to create a unique safe haven for teen mothers in need, offering them an opportunity to build a brighter future,” Baghoumian said. “In this region, teen mothers face immense challenges. Often abandoned by their families and partners, they’re forced to drop out of school and sometimes even pushed into prostitution. Many of them have no choice but to give up their precious children for adoption.
“We hope to provide these young mothers with a place to live while continuing their education,” she continued. “We’ll also provide vocational training to ensure that they have the skills to secure a better future for themselves and their children.”
Mahbgerefteh, 25, of Agoura Hills, said that what she likes about their project “is that we’re truly making an impact on not one life, but on the lives of families.”
She said that she and her teammates designed the project with a GoFundMe page, in part, because they wanted to make sure the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life was within reach of everyone—from those with deep pockets to classmates who often struggle to make ends meet. Their page’s fundraising goal is $1,500.
“The amount, $1,500, may not seem like much here in Los Angeles, but it can be transformative for eight families in Indonesia,” Mahbgerefteh said. “And the impact is not limited to eight families. As the women transition from the shelter, there are always others waiting to take their places. This project will have lasting impact for years to come.”
Joshua Einhorn, who teaches the “Leadership for Managing Reform in Higher Education” class in CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education, said he incorporated community service learning and engagement in his class to teach his students about the power they have to affect change.
Baghoumian said it’s a lesson she has taken to heart.
She had originally intended to get a master’s degree in business administration at CSUN, but switched to educational leadership and policy studies because of the opportunities it presented to impact the lives of parenting students and their families.
“I already have ideas for what my next projects are going to look like, and I know that I have the skills to see them through,” she said.