WeBuild Founder Spotlight: Ruhani Nigam

Ruhani Nigam is a 4th-year Communications major at Northeastern University. She was part of WISE’s Fall 2020 WeBuild Cohort, where she founded CAMLI-B.

CAMLI-B is a free college admissions mentorship program for LatinX high school students in Boston and strives to make the process towards higher education more inclusive. CAMLI-B stands for College Admissions Mentorship for LatinX Intellectuals of Boston.

Scroll down to learn more about CAMLI-B and Ruhani’s journey as a founder.

Tell me about your inspiration behind CAMLI-B. How did you initially find your passion to make higher education more inclusive?

I’ve always had an interest in LatinX culture. Since high school, I have enjoyed learning about Latin American political histories and literature, as well as learning Spanish, which motivated me to pick up a Spanish minor in college. In my free time, I enjoy movies, tv shows, and music in Spanish, and have been lucky enough to travel to several Latin American countries.

It’s important to note that I grew up in an Indian-American household where the value of education was instilled in me at an early age. My grandparents’ generation was socially and economically displaced by Partition, but were able to rise from it through higher education. My grandpa and grandma went on to become professors in Chemical Engineering and Sanskrit respectively. My mom also works in academia, and my brother is on his way to becoming a professor too. Not only did my parents make sacrifices that ensured I would be able to afford higher education, but I was constantly surrounded by motivation and guidance to get there.

But when I got to Northeastern and started having conversations with people about their college admissions processes, I realized that many of my peers, specifically those in the LatinX community, did not have the same ease in their experience. This struck me as an issue because it’s not as if there aren’t enough LatinX high school students to enroll; in fact, they make up 20% of the Massachusetts population but somehow universities have an enrollment of less than 8% of LatinX students. So when I came to Boston hoping to engage with the LatinX community at Northeastern University, I couldn’t. Not because I didn’t want to, but because there was a barrier.

That barrier is that in Massachusetts, the median income gap between LatinX households and white households is the largest income gap in the country. LatinX people in Massachusetts can only afford to live in low-income neighborhoods and go to low-income schools, thus not receiving proper college admissions resources and guidance. There is also limited guidance at home because this inequality is generational, and students’ parents most likely do not have experience with the college admissions process themselves. Not to mention, the college admissions process and tuition costs are unaffordable to several LatinX families without financial aid, a significant deterrent to higher education.

That’s where CAMLI-B comes in. It’s a college admissions mentorship program for low-income LatinX high school students in Boston. CAMLI-B is created with four main goals in mind: affordability, authenticity, awareness, and attention.

  1. Affordability: CAMLI-B will be free to ease the financial burden of the process.
  2. Authenticity: University student program managers will ensure genuine, up-to-date advice about life in college.
  3. Awareness: CAMLI-B is designed with the knowledge of specific LatinX student needs such as navigating the process of paying for college and understanding the value of higher education.
  4. Attention: The program provides 1-on-1 guidance that public school systems are lacking.

How does the mentorship program work? How do you pair people together?

The program would last 10 weeks with weekly hour-long sessions consisting of a group check-in, a lesson plan, a guest speaker (Admission officer, LatinX industry leader, or LatinX college student), and assigned homework for the following week. Each class would consist of 15 high school students and 5 program managers/mentors, and each student would be assigned a mentor. Each week, students would also have a scheduled one-on-one meeting with their assigned mentor to review homework progress, ask further questions, and voice any concerns. Structuring both group and individual sessions is intentional. While one-on-one mentorship can be especially impactful, the college admissions process can be extremely vulnerable, and the group sessions will provide a support system for students going through the same process.

What was the process like while building CAMLI-B? What role did WeBuild play in building CAMLI-B?

I owe everything to WeBuild for inspiring me to build CAMLI-B. We spoke openly about topics like imposter syndrome and the importance of self-care for entrepreneurs. The group of women in my cohort inspired me every week not only through their ambition, but through their vulnerability. The most valuable lesson I learned through the WeBuild is the power of understanding the user. Engaging in market research, understanding who your user is and how they spend their days, and actually engaging with interviews has been invaluable in sculpting CAMLI-B into a program that will actually have lasting impacts of LatinX high school students in Boston.

What is one failure that you have endured in your journey with CAMLI-B that taught you something valuable?

I remember something Fernanda Lopez (my pinpoint and co-VP of WeBuild who I’m now lucky enough to call my friend) said in WeBuild one day that stuck with me. She said that it’s important to celebrate our efforts and accomplishments, however little they may be, because if we don’t give our brains a dopamine kick when we do something great, our brains won’t have any incentive to exert energy to be creative and critical. I’ve been celebrating both my little and big wins since then. In other words, I learned to acknowledge when I do good work.

But there was another lesson that I learned shortly after: learning to acknowledge when I cannot do good work. Right after WeBuild ended, I faced a number of challenges in my personal life. I was forced to pause, and realized I needed to take care of myself. I remember being upset at myself for not being able to take on a lot of things, including CAMLI-B. That was my failure — thinking that because I wasn’t working, I was somehow not enough. A few times, I tried to force it. I opened my laptop, but my brain was foggy. I didn’t have the threshold to take on something this important. After a lot of reflection, I realized that it’s okay to have to take a break. It’s perfectly normal to take some time gathering my strength to get back on my feet. And it’s ironically selfless to take care of myself before making a promise to others I wish to help.

Do you have any advice for those looking to build their own venture?

You’ll never be 100% prepared to start working on your venture. The only way to prepare is to dive right in and learn as you go. Several of the entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to admitted that they didn’t know what they were doing when they first launched their products. And how could they? They’re usually navigating uncharted waters. But that’s the beauty of entrepreneurship, you’re making something new, something to be nurtured. Something that started as a simple idea in your head.

Thank you for reading Ruhani’s story and journey! If you have any questions about CAMLI-B or would like to reach out to Ruhani, please feel free to email her at ruhaninigam@gmail.com

WeBuild is a community-based thought-incubator for a cohort of 8–10 women. This is a semester-long set of innovation and design thinking classes, helping women develop the soft and hard skills necessary to problem solve and build out a venture or business idea. If you have any questions about WISE or WeBuild, email us at northeasternwise@gmail.com or DM us on Instagram @northeasternwise!

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Northeastern WISE

Northeastern WISE

WISE is the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship, a club that is dedicated to supporting women interested in developing an innovative mindset.