Last weekend, 22 Duke students, along with DOCE Director Megan Granda and Civic Engagement Fellow Liz Holden, traveled to Arizona State University for the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) annual meeting. The participating students were selected through a competitive process in which they proposed “Commitments to Action,” or innovative solutions to some of society’s most pressing problems.
Several Duke teams received special recognition at the meeting. STEMpals, a project promoting STEM education in Indian and American middle schools through a mobile platform and on-the-ground “kits” that allow students to build electronic devices, was a semifinalist in the Resolution Project competition. That team was represented by sophomores Jay Sullivan (Public Policy) and Phil Reinhart (Economics). IGNITE Peer Mentoring, a high school mentoring program represented by senior Andrew Leon Hanna (Public Policy), was a finalist in the same competition. Graduate student Jordan Schermerhon (Global Health) was selected to present her project in the Exchange, a poster session showcasing exemplary CGI U projects. Schermerhorn’s project, Dunia Health, is a mobile platform that sends immunization reminders to patients in Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, where political instability can result in a lack of medical supplies and canceled or missed appointments.
Twenty-nine Duke students were invited to the meeting, putting Duke in the top five schools nationwide both in the number of students who applied and the number accepted. Their projects covered a range of topics in five focus areas: Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, Education, Public Health, and Environment and Climate Change. The students, who are working individually or in teams, represent 15 majors across the Trinity, Pratt, Fuqua, Nicholas, and Sanford schools. Most of the teams are multidisciplinary.
The meeting was hosted by President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton. In the opening plenary session on Friday night, President Clinton hosted a panel, “The Age of Participation,” featuring US Senator John McCain, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Harvard student Shree Bose, and IT Consultant, Columnist, and Blogger Manal Al-Sharif. The conversation often returned to volatile world affairs, particularly the current conflict in Ukraine, but the overall tone was hopeful – that the millennial generation has the tools to improve the U.S. and the world, that technology can make a difference. When Hillary Clinton introduced the panel, she noted that, despite negative stereotypes, the millennial generation has a higher rate of volunteerism than any other generation – nearly 75 percent of millennials have worked with a nonprofit in the last year. “This is an open and tolerant generation,” she concluded.
And for the student “changemakers” who were invited, the conference was not the end of a journey, but an impetus to approach their commitments to action with a new zeal. After a weekend of networking, funding opportunities, and encouragement from a presidential family, these 22 Duke students have undoubtedly returned to campus with newly inspired to leverage their projects for meaningful societal change.