From Classroom to Social Change: Students Pursue Significant Opportunities for Global Progress
When Sarah Lin came to Rutgers, she wouldn’t have been able to say much in depth about international human trafficking. But in 2016, the planning and public policy sophomore met with world leaders like former President Bill Clinton as a result of a human trafficking awareness campaign she designed while taking a course she found by chance.
“I saw a flyer in the Graduate School of Education advertising a global trends course that would allow me to explore the intersection of my two minor interests, education and global studies,” Lin said.
Lin was just one of fifteen Rutgers students selected to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) in Berkeley, Calif., a prestigious annual conference launched by Bill and Hillary Clinton that joins young and active change-makers with global leaders.
Students are only accepted to CGI U based on the viability of a detailed action plan—or what CGI U calls “Commitments to Action”—for a project that effects positive social, political, civic or economic change.
Lin’s four-phase Commitment to Action calls for the creation of a new interdisciplinary academic course on human trafficking and a series of campus events designed to empower students—and she credits her winning plan to Graduate School of Education–New Brunswick professor William Fernekes and his course, “Global Education: 21st Century Trends and Issues.”
“In Professor Fernekes’ course, I chose to do my final project on the use of human rights education to teach college students about human trafficking in the 21st century,” Lin said. “I used this project as a springboard for my CGI U Commitment to Action.”
“Her project was, without question, the most impressive project presented,” Fernekes said. “It reflected a strong grasp of the relevant literature about human trafficking and the theory and practice of human rights education.”
Other students’ Commitments to Action covered a variety of topics ranging from education to human rights to sustainability and public health. This year’s accepted CGI U projects include HIV/AIDS outreach and education programs in Nigeria and Newark, a girls’ leadership and soccer camp, a mentorship and leadership training group for women, a community-driven elementary school tutoring initiative in New Brunswick and educational programs for underprivileged migrant children.
Rutgers University–Newark finance major Mohamed Shabhan already has plenty going for him, being one of the youngest real estate agents in the tristate area at 18 years of age, but he says that being accepted to CGI U is “a major achievement” in his life. He partnered with Eman Elgouz, Rutgers–Newark engineering student and former Hult Prize finalist, on their Commitment to Action, “Sexual Education through Art and Media,” which focuses on an after-school arts, music and sexual education pilot program for Newark high school students.
Shabhan and Elgouz’s project was largely inspired by family.
“My parents played a huge role and were always pushing me to give back to the community—and not necessarily to expect anything back. It’s something that I try to abide by,” Shabhan said.
While his upbringing played a critical role in the project’s concept, he said that meeting new mentors at CGI U helped guide its implementation.
“I attended sessions with professionals in the public health field, who gave us feedback on our Commitment to Action,” he said. “I really liked hearing Bill Clinton speak.”
This year’s CGI U conference also brings Rutgers one more distinction. Of the 1,000 student attendees, public policy student Renee Sheriff and political science student Na-Yeon Park were the first Rutgers students handpicked by CGI U to compete in the Resolution Project’s Social Venture Challenge against 20 other accepted attendees.
Sheriff and Park delivered a 15-minute presentation on their Commitment to Action—which aims to provide English language instruction and college preparation lessons to young North Korean refugees—to a closed-door panel of expert judges.
The Center for Global Education at the GAIA Centers provides individualized mentoring and seed funding grants for selected students to pursue and complete their Commitments to Action. In addition to project mentorship and financial support through the GAIA Centers, CGI U participants attended a series of workshops in social entrepreneurship and innovation offered by faculty at the Rutgers Business School and from the Office of New Ventures and Entrepreneurship.
Since its inaugural meeting in 2008, CGI U has brought together more than 7,500 student leaders from about 145 countries and nearly 1,000 schools. Past speakers include Bill Clinton, current presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, actress America Ferrara, and talk show host Stephen Colbert. For more information about the meeting, visit cgiu.org.
Accepted Rutgers Students to 2016 CGI U