Four St. Lawrence University students have been invited to attend the upcoming Clinton Global Initiative University conference to present their proposals for innovative solutions to challenging social issues.
Rutendo Chabikwa ’17, Vanessa Chilunda ’17, Luize Eihmane ’16 and Winsome Toroitich ’17 will all travel to Miami in March and join about 1,000 college students from across the U.S. at the conference.
“This signifies an opportunity to open doors while meeting like-minded people who are interested in making a difference,” said Rutendo, a second-year student from Harare, Zimbabwe. “This is also an opportunity for me to challenge myself to make a presentation in front of many people.”
According to the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative was established in 2005 by President Bill Clinton and convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the social and global issues. The Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) was established in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world. Nearly $2 million in funding has been awarded through CGI U.
Rutendo will present a social venture called “This Is My Story,” in which she is aiming to teach photography, writing and videography to youths from 15 to 24 years old in impoverished, urban Zimbabwe.
“The idea is to create a platform, most likely a website, where marginalized Zimbabwean youth will update their daily experience for the world, including Zimbabweans, to see,” she said. “Many of these youths have turned to drug abuse and criminal activities, and I think art can provide an outlet in seemingly hopeless situations like this.”
Madeleine Wong, associate professor and chair of global studies, advised three of the students and said that their participation at the event is both a good opportunity for the students to present their ideas and to have St. Lawrence represented in such high capacity.
“It’s really great that St. Lawrence can send four students to the Clinton Global Initiative, and it’s also a wonderful recruiting opportunity for St. Lawrence,” she said. “One of the things I’ve asked students is ‘what are you going to bring back to campus with you from this conference?’ Students should be able to continue their work well after the conference ends.”
Vanessa is a sophomore from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, who will propose a STEM project-based learning program. The liberal arts pedagogy she wants to introduce in the science, technology, engineering and math field is relatively new in Tanzania. Therefore, she would like to work with educational foundations to develop STEM programming in Tanzanian high schools in ways that match with existing to enhance mutual learning from diverse curricular. Wong said it’s important that students like Vanessa bring their own passions and experiences into their proposals.
“Like elsewhere, science tends to be taught very top down that is not always creative,” Wong said. “In this sense, opportunities for women in science are limited as we’ve discovered in the U.S. as well. Her proposal helps to think about new and creative ways of learning science.”
Winsome is a sophomore from Nairobi, Kenya, who wants to develop a nonprofit organization that will help women in Kenya build greenhouses.
“As a result of loss or lack of jobs, women have resorted to the informal economy, such as making alcohol to earn money,” she said. “The Jenga Jamii Initiative would empower rural women through agribusiness by providing green houses and agricultural consulting services. I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned at St. Lawrence and use those skills I’ve learned in class to present publicly.”
Rutendo, Vanessa and Winsome – being from African nations and in the same class year – were aware of each other’s projects and supported and motivated each other to apply. However, a fourth St. Lawrence student has also applied to the CGI U conference.
Luize Eihmane is a junior originally from Riga, Latvia. She, too, developed a proposal that lead to her being invited to attend the conference, proposing after-school programming in her native country.
“In Latvia, there are no after-school programs or school sports, unless you’re extremely wealthy,” she explained. “There really are no job opportunities for teenagers. So, there are a lot of kids just hanging around, and that leads to drinking and drugs and gangs. They don’t have anything else to do.”
Her proposal would be to develop a program that would use school spaces after classes and create some type of after-school programming for teenage students.
“I’ve already talked to some schools, and they all seem open to us using the space,” she said. “It has a lot of support of parents and kids, too.”
Three of the students – Luize, Rutendo and Vanessa – are graduates of United World Colleges. Winsome, meanwhile, was accepted as part of St. Lawrence University’s Kenya Scholarship Program.
President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton are official hosts of the conference. More than $900,000 in funding will be available to select CGI U 2015 participants to help fund student proposals.
In addition to presenting, the four St. Lawrence students will attend three days of conference proceedings, including seminars on designing meaningful projects, how to raise money for their projects, and several networking events.