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Coming Home to a Cause

Eva Liu’s work blends her passion and skills

From her office at Chicago Beyond, a nonprofit organization, Eva Liu looks back at a surprising journey that has taken her from her neighborhood school in Chicago’s Chinatown to Harvard University and to The Wharton School, where she landed a place in the McGowan Fellows Program. Eventually she found herself at McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting firm whose alumni are often tapped for top jobs at places like Google and Boeing.

Or maybe the journey is not surprising after all. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Liu has always seen her robust and personalized public education as a life-changing gift, one that most Chicago youth don’t fully receive. “I just got really lucky,” she says of her teachers and college preparation. Although 77 percent of Chicago’s high school students do graduate, the college graduation rate is a disappointing 17 percent. The gift that has powered Liu’s life is out of reach for many.

“I guess I’m paying it back in some ways,” she says of her new job as chief strategy and operations officer at Chicago Beyond. The group invests in and also supports programs aimed at helping youth with research and strategic consulting. “That’s where my McKinsey experience comes in,” Liu notes.

She also credits her McGowan fellowship for the turn her career has taken. “It was great, the opportunity to meet individuals from nine other schools and work with them over the course of the year,” she says. That year, the McGowan social impact project involved developing an ethics curriculum for young people. “Everyone was passionate about what they were doing; they wanted their work to be more meaningful than the job description.” Now she’s landed on a similar team. “I’m working with great people aligned with the things I care about.”