Top Indiana University students commit to addressing global challenges
Students at Indiana University recently made serious commitments to create positive change both in communities and nationally. They vowed to work to develop job skills in a poor Mexican village, help Africans get to work and school with bicycles, and advocate on global security, environmental issues and oil independence.
The students agreed to take these global challenges as part of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U). The initiative brought together nearly 1,000 students at the University of Texas at Austin. This conference allows students to follow in the footsteps of world leaders, who came together at the Clinton Global Initiative to take action on global challenges.
Each year, the CGI U hosts a meeting for students, national youth organizations and university officials to discuss solutions to pressing global issues. The initiative encourages students to lead in five focus areas: Education, Energy and Climate Change, Global Health, Peace and Human rights and Poverty Alleviation. Finally, the conference asks each participant to make a commitment to action that will create positive change.
The conference was not all talk, however. It consisted of four main events, including plenary sessions, working sessions, an exchange, and a service project on the east side of Austin. Students spent the final day performing local service by cleaning up a park. One student described a great feeling of accomplishment and is planning to continue it by volunteering around the Bloomington area soon.
Perspectives on Policy interviewed three Indiana University Bloomington students, ranging from first-year undergraduates to graduate students, on their participation in the conference and asked each to speak about their commitments. Each of the participants was encouraged by the sharing of interest among so many young people dedicated to creating positive change.
"Everyone seemed intensely passionate and motivated to change some part of the world," said student Jared Stancombe. "I felt that the commitments at the Clinton Global Initiative were overall making a huge impact on the world and making it a better place for those not as lucky as us."
"Although it may seem that the world has halted in times of crisis," said student Abby Frydryk, "the grassroots initiative for public service needs to be as, or more, powerful than it has been in the past. Ultimately, it was very exciting to see young people getting involved and taking action on these issues that deserve our attention."
Abby Frydryk, an IU freshman originally from Illinois, is majoring in legal studies with a minor in fundraising. She attributes her public service motivation to her parents, who instilled the value of giving back to her at a young age.
IU's Leadership Ethics and Social Action (LESA) program originally encouraged Frydryk to become involved with the initiative. After hearing about CGI U, she found inspiration in the concept that students could address these problems by starting small and building their way up to global challenges. She also described how she "applied in the midst of the Obama campaign, and his emphasis on 'change' and powerful grassroots initiative inspired me as well."
Frydryk's commitment to action works to support poverty alleviation in Africa. "Through a non-profit called Bicycles-For-Humanity, I am committing to send a Bicycle Empowerment Center (BEC) to a developing African community by August of 2011. I plan to engage my community at school and at home in collecting new and used bikes and equipment. In addition, I plan to establish other special events to fundraise for financial donations for Bicycles for Humanity."
A BEC is a bicycle workshop in a box, providing a developing country with about 430 bicycles, tools and spare parts and accompanied by comprehensive training in bicycle mechanics. The general mission of Bicycles for Humanity is to help communities in Africa gain access to improved mobility and establish a better quality of life.
In nations where people are living on less than $1 a day, bicycles are financially out of the question, and they are often taken for granted in countries like the United States and other Western nations. It is estimated that 15 to 20 million bikes are purchased in the United States a year and 10 million of those are eventually discarded or unused.
The opportunities that bicycles present in developing nations are endless. They help empower women to perform domestic duties more efficiently, get children to school, provide healthcare workers with necessary means of transportation to distribute medicine for HIV/AIDS and malaria, and create opportunities for the unemployed.
Jared Stancombe, an IU senior originally from Indiana, is studying political science with a minor in geography. He knew he was going to IU at a young age, as he grew up watching IU basketball, and remembers his hometown of Bedford nearly shutting down when Damon Bailey played. While at IU, he has had the opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters.
He has concentrated his studies on the Middle East, studying national security law, Middle-Eastern Politics and Arabic. He hopes to become a Foreign Service Officer.
Stancombe attended the CGI U conference as a representative of the nonpartisan Student Alliance for National Security (SANS), for which he is IU's vice president. SANS has made a group commitment to action described as a "Declaration of Oil Independence." The group views global climate change as a threat to U.S. national security because it can increase the intensity of storms, have dramatic effects on regional world climates, and contribute to disease, famine and the depletion of natural resources that can also force countries and nonstate actors to fight for resources. The group believes that global climate change could possibly be the biggest national security threat we face -- much more dangerous than terrorism.
"Our commitment involves an online petition for all university students to sign stating that they want immediate action on energy security and for a serious commitment by the U.S. government to work to wean the U.S. economy off of oil," Stancombe said. "We hope to gain 100,000 signatures and to take the Declaration to the 2020 Vision annual conference in the summer or 2010. We hope to work with 2020 Vision to make our project national and to have representatives of the Declaration at other universities."
Amy Wolff, a graduate student originally from Connecticut, is studying at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). She graduated from the IU School of Journalism in 2008 and decided to stay at IU because of the No. 1-ranked Nonprofit Management program available at SPEA.
CGI U selected Wolff because of her eight previous years of work toward poverty alleviation in Mexico.
"I have made the personal commitment to start La Vida Con Ingles (VCL), an English as a Second Language program for young adults and adults, in Chiquila, Mexico -- a village that is located about two and a half hours northeast of Cancun," Wolff said. "Currently, an island off the coast of Chiquila is growing into quite the tourist attraction. This creates several job opportunities in hotel management, restaurant management and sales.
"Without proper English training, however, the jobs are not plausible. The current English training in the education system is very poor. Often the professors are incapable of teaching the language correctly, handicapping their students."
VCL will serve as a resource for individuals looking for professional training in English, as well as technology, art, merchandising and character building.
"My interest is not to 'westernize' the village, but rather to deepen their family relationships, provide resources for food, water, and medicine, and to show them the joy that comes from honest, dependable work."
Wolff found the experience to be both encouraging and functional. She described how she "was able to connect with several experienced non-profit focused individuals who know their field." She left the conference feeling "inspired to produce a community development organization that is sustainably result-oriented."
While many organizations wish to "solve the world", Amy has a more practical approach. She feels inspired to produce a community development organization that is sustainably result oriented. It troubles her "that billions of dollars go into ineffective and unproductive non-profits," and she "very much appreciated the approach that CGIU supported- be quick to collaborate, slow to incorporate."