Students tackle global challenges at Clinton conference


It takes more than just hard work to turn an idea for advancing social justice into a successful reality. It also takes inspiration, a strong network and a lot of support, encouragement and advice.

That’s exactly what 10 students received when they participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) annual meeting, April 1-3, at the University of California, Berkeley. Each year, CGI U hosts students, topic experts and celebrities to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges in education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health.

Before attending the conference, the Cornell students refined their projects and honed their presentations in workshops led by Anke Wessels, executive director of the Center for Transformative Action, and Rochelle Jackson-Smarr, assistant director for engaged learning and research at Engaged Cornell.

“The pre-departure sessions helped me prepare for the conference in more ways than one,” said Jane Conway ’16. “Anke was especially helpful in the development of my elevator pitch. She came to understand my project so quickly and was able to help me use the right language to make the most impact and influence.”

Cornell is a founding member of CGI’s University Network – a group of more than 50 universities that support their delegates through seed grants and mentoring. In addition to project development advice, the Cornell delegates received funds to attend the conference. They also have the opportunity to compete for additional funding to support their social justice projects.

“Without the support I received, I don’t think I would have attended CGI U, which was invaluable as I learned strategies for fundraising and other skills to improve my commitment,” said Jimmy Guo ’16, who is leading an initiative to build the first school in Haiti to integrate students with disabilities into the mainstream education system. “The opportunity to prepare a presentation and compete for more funding will allow me to further refine my pitch and convince others that the mission I believe in is worth investing time and money into.”

The Clinton Global Initiative is a project of former President Bill Clinton. This year, CGI U brought together more than 1,200 student leaders from 80 countries and 250 schools. Speakers included Ann Mei Chang, chief innovation officer and executive director of the U.S. Global Development Lab at USAID, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, TV host Conan O’Brien, and Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of Pinterest.

The Cornell delegation included undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of disciplines, from biochemistry and environmental science to English and government. The delegates and projects are:

  • Maria Robles – Blossom: an initiative to provide sanitary resources for young women in rural Kenya.
  • Jimmy Guo – Centre d’Education Inclusif: a collaborative commitment to design, sustainably build and institute the first fully inclusive primary school in Haiti.
  • Jane Conway, Hope Craig ’16 and Caitlin Noonan ’17– Cornell University Student Health Liaisons: a program seeking to reduce the incidence of sexual assault in the Cornell community and promote a positive and healthy sexual climate for all. (Teammate Grace Robbins ’16 could not attend the conference.)
  • Samantha Kirsch ’18 – Englewood Connection: an online database where Englewood public school students can connect with volunteer mentors from the area.
  • Dejah Powell ’18 – Get Them to the Green: an after-school educational program centered on environmental sustainability.
  • Sarah Palmer ’17– {M}apping Sexual Violence: a mobile app aimed at ending sexual assault on college campuses.
  • Khalafalla Khalafalla ’17 – Men of Color Conference: an initiative to bridge Cornell University and local communities by addressing structural systems that act as barriers to the success of men of color.
  • Gaurav Toor, graduate student – Self-Sustaining Orphanages: a commitment to making Kenyan orphanages self-sufficient.

Ashlee McGandy is a content strategist at Cornell.

This article originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

More News from A&S

 Students with Bill Clinton