This time last week I was in Miami, Fl – specifically Coral Gables the University of Miami. Back in November I received an email from GWU about an event called the Clinton Global Initiative University. I hadn’t heard much about it before receiving the email and honestly was a bit skeptical, because who was I to put my name in a hat full of amazing ideas, that people wanted to make reality.
To back track a bit, The Clinton Global Initiative has been around since 2001. This annual affair brings together world leaders to take action on global challenges. Then President Clinton launched the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) in 2007 to engage university students to do the same.
Each year, CGI U hosts a meeting in a different location where students, topic experts, and celebrities come together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges.
Back in November when I received that email- I scheduled a meeting with Melanie Fedri (the Coordinator of the GWupstart Social Innovation Lab and all around coordinator for CGIU activities for GWU students) to delve a bit deeper and get more details about the event. You see, I was skeptical because the email said someone had recommended me to apply. That made all the difference. I didn’t know who recommended me and still don’t. It very well could have been generic email copy; but knowing that someone had enough faith in me to recommend that I apply for an event like this was the push I needed. I might not have even known about the event if it wasn’t for that email in my inbox.
I knew I wanted to submit a project I could actually pursue and cared about – not an idea that was over my head, or logistically too complicated. I thought about global issues and my local community both new and old. I had just moved to DC a few months earlier and it was a hard transition. At some point during the semester I also came across an article online about an undergraduate student who attempted suicide by jumping out a ninth floor window. She thankfully survived, but now was recovering from major injuries and that doesn’t even address the medical bills her family must be facing.
I decided to address mental health counseling at GWU. How can we reduce stress during life as a university student. I thought about community, because after all isn’t that one of the main reasons we attend school to begin with- to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Otherwise, home schooling would be much more popular and online universities would be the mainstream. I also thought about what made me smile rather than dread the day. Puppies! Cats! Animals in general.
I thought up of Pets for Colonials- a way for college students to interact with pets (cats or dogs) on campus during the week. I wanted the pets to accessible in the student health center waiting area- where students wait for mental health services. I wanted to focus on de-stigmatizing college students seeking mental health counseling services- starting small at my own school. I know I know- think BIG. I will think bigger for my next commitment!
By creating a more welcoming atmosphere in the counseling center waiting area by allowing interactions between students and therapy animals. We hope to attract more students to use the counseling services by having animals there to relieve stress and anxiety. Students can also visit the counseling center under the guise of visiting an animal if they don’t feel comfortable disclosing that they are seeking a counseling visit.
I realize allergies, fear and simple red tape might be barriers to making this idea a reality, but I will work to see if there are ways to work with the current system to make my commitment a reality. But let’s get back to CGIU. The night before Christmas Eve I received an email saying my commitment had been accepted and I was oh so excited! It was icing on my proverbial cake since I was leaving for Africa the next day. There was so much going on. I registered immediately and then shelved the idea until I got back from Ghana.
A few days leading up to CGIU I wasn’t sure if I would even be making it since winter storm Thor was headed towards the mid-Atlantic. My car had a layer of at least 4 inches of snow on it. GWU had cancelled classes that day and the roads in VA hadn’t been cleared yet. But I was persistent and drove the hour into DC- parked my car and then took the metro in.
I don’t know how it happened by every flight out of Reagan headed to Miami was cancelled but mine. I was so lucky that I made it to Miami without significant delays. The weather was amazing and a welcome change from the frigid temperatures DC was offering. I couldn’t get enough of the palm trees and the gorgeous University of Miami campus. I was lucky enough to stay with Naomi Ross, who was generous to open up her home to me and Kayla Sippl from University Wisconsin. Naomi is doing amazing things in Miami locally- encouraging dialogue among diverse communities and Kayla is looking to expand The Soap Project in Kenya to another location in Africa. Meeting so many people from all around the country and the world was an eye opening experience. There were so many great ideas in one place. I had lunch with a student from USC that is also working on a project on healthcare access. I got to know my fellow Colonials (GWU mascot reference) a bit better that were at the event. The opportunity to hear Hans Rosling speak was great as well. CGIU was a great way to connect with other people that are interested in a variety of topics but mainly to make a difference in both their local communities or ones that are thousands of miles away. Here’s a quick fire survey of what I thought of the event:
Favorite Breakout Session: Designing a Meaningful Project by Hitendra Patel, Professor of Innovation and Growth and Director of Hult Prize Accelerator had some great takeaways about picking the right people, thinking big and collaboration.
Memorable Moment: Trying to fit seven commitment makers in a car home from South Beach. Yes we made it home safely.
Favorite commitment: Lucky Iron Fish Project
Other thoughts: The #DayofAction was a great idea. Painting hallways in Liberty City with other commitment makers was a great way to connect and we got cool t shirts. I enjoyed picnicking on the beach with commitment makers the following Monday as well before returning to DC. I do wish the event was longer. Perhaps two full days of sessions instead of one would allow for commitment makers to meet people in a relaxed environment. My schedule didn’t allow me to attend the office hours, but wish I could have. I met so many passionate motivated people and was able to genuinely connect with them. I even found an entire table of Mount Holyoke alumnae at lunch (my alma mater), which was heartwarming. I hope to return with my commitment fulfilled next year, so now I have to connect with the key players that can help make that happen. If you know any college students (both undergraduate and graduate) with a great idea- I would highly encourage you to encourage them to apply to CGIU or events like it. You never know how big of an impact it can make.