CGI U offers students global opportunities

Lizzie Rivard

Few events present students with the opportunity to meet former President Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, Natalie Portman and James Carville in one place.

At the annual Clinton Global Initiative University meeting in April 2010, an anticipated 1,200 college students from all over the country will have this chance.

At the 2009 CGI U conference, Communication sophomore Shenghan Karla Wang and her partner Nicholas Young, a student at Brown University, were recipients of an Outstanding Commitment Award. They won $6,000 toward training and equipment for disaster relief for earthquake victims in the Sichuan province of China through the Green Handkerchief Initiative, which helps victims rebuild their communities through “sustainable rural enterprise.”

The CGI U program for students was established in 2007, modeled after the Clinton Global Initiative, a separate yearly meeting which brings together heads of state, leading CEOs, major philanthropists, NGO directors and members of the press to discuss solutions to current global issues. CGI U follows the same model as CGI, as both place an emphasis on global citizenship and public service. Keisha Senter, who serves as the current director of CGI U, said the program is a way for students to come together to collaborate on pressing global issues.

“CGI U is a new way to engage college students from all over the world and challenge them to make action in issues of public health, education, poverty, climate change and human rights,” Senter said. “It’s really former President Clinton’s challenge and call to action for young people to be engaged and help people out through those five focus areas.”

The 2009 CGI U conference was held at the University of Texas at Austin and was attended by about 1,000 students. The three-day long event includes workshops, small group discussions and a presentation from a panel of experts. SESP senior Allie Bream attended the meeting on behalf of Northwestern’s Global Engagement Summit. Bream also interned for the CGI U organization in the summer of 2008.

“Overall the conference was a really great experience,” Bream said. “I was able to meet really interesting people who had well-established projects who taught me how I could do my work better.”

Bream’s CGI U project involved enhancing mentorship opportunities for interested students while serving on the education board for GES. According to Bream, CGI U can offer participating students excellent networking resources.

“When you have a thousand young people in a room who are interested in the same sorts of things, you’re going to have some kind of collaboration that happens,” she said.

Weinberg senior Analidis Bendana also attended the 2009 CGI U conference in Austin. Her area of interest at the meeting was a research project on addressing the poverty of indigenous populations in Panama. CGI U also helped Bendana make connections with other students interested in working on the same global issues, she said.

“One of the major things that CGI U taught me is that making partnerships is really important,” Bendana said. “If you make a coalition and pool your resources, you can be a lot more effective.”

Bendana still stays in touch with many of the fellow college students she met at the CGI U conference last year, and they continue to discuss each other’s progress and offer suggestions on how to further their own initiatives, she said.

Next year’s conference will take place at the University of Miami.

“We try to create a space for students to engage not only with other students but with university administrators and to not only talk about issues affecting us globally but outline ways to address them,” Senter said.

Bendana plans on attending the 2010 CGI U conference at the University of Miami on behalf of her involvement with the Chicago Area Mentorship Program and encourages other students to apply as well.

“It’s such a great experience, I can’t emphasize that enough,” Bendana said. “You learn so much in this one weekend.”[email protected]