Students excited to ‘feed off the energy’ of CGI U this weekend

Vy Thai, SSH’19, is a co-founder of Mekong Livelihoods and is participating in the Clinton Global Initiative University this weekend at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

In high school, Kritika Singh founded Malaria Free World, a nonprofit focused on raising awareness of and supporting research for a disease that claimed 429,000 lives in 2015, according to the World Health Organization. Now a second-year bioengineering major at Northeastern, Singh remains dedicated to the cause.

Bioengineering major Kritika Singh, founder of Malaria Free World, is participating in the Clinton Global Initiative University this weekend at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

This weekend, Singh will be one of thousands from around the globe participating in the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative University, which Northeastern is hosting. These students—including about 150 from Northeastern—have all identified a pressing global challenge in one of five areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, or public health. As part of CGI U, students have developed “commitments to action,” which are specific plans to address persistent global challenges.

Singh’s commitment, which dovetails with Malaria Free World’s mission, involves developing an app that would initially target students in India. The app would not only help educate students about malaria and its prevention, but it would do so using the scientific method—with the goal of increasing STEM education and fostering scientific thought in the next generation of researchers.

“When I saw that CGI U was coming to Northeastern and that we could apply, I got really excited,” said Singh, E’20. “I’ve had this app idea for a while, and CGI U provides amazing opportunities and the perfect platform to help solidify the idea and secure funding.” She’s already connected via Facebook and email with other CGI U participants whose commitments involve infectious disease, and she’s eager to network with students from across the world throughout the weekend and soak up advice from global leaders speaking at the event—all in the hopes of advancing her long-term commitment to increase global awareness of malaria and eradicate the disease.

Helping social enterprises grow

Like Singh, many other CGI U participants from Northeastern made commitments of both global significance and personal interest. Recent graduate Neel Desai is working with second-year students Danny Kim and Vidhan Bhaiya to create an online toolkit to help under-resourced micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries grow their businesses. During a social enterprise field study in Cape Town, South Africa, this summer led by professor Dennis Shaughnessy, the team worked alongside students on that field study to test the toolkit by consulting micro-entrepreneurs there. The next step is to test the toolkit in more communities globally and learn how the resource can be improved.

Desai, SSH’17, the former CEO of IDEA, Northeastern’s student-led venture accelerator, said CGI U provides an invaluable opportunity to learn best practices from social entrepreneurs and meet other students who are passionate about this field. “In social enterprise, we see a lot of duplicative efforts, so we’ll be looking for opportunities to collaborate with others,” he added.

Supporting refugees through mentorship

Another CGI U project—led by students Kelsey Taeckens, SSH’20, Tallie Hausser, DMSB’20, and Nicolas Barclay Wittrup, SSH’18—involves creating a mentorship program that would link newly settled refugees in the Boston area with young professionals, with the goal of building a stronger sense of community and belonging among refugees after they’ve settled in the area. The project stems from a newly founded Northeastern student organization, the Refugee Empowerment & Awareness Campus Task Force, also known as REACT.

I’m excited to see what others are doing and feed off their energy.

Tallie Hausser

Hausser’s passion for increasing awareness and support for refugees stems from her time studying Arabic in Morocco last year on a Critical Language Scholarship, during which time she met and conversed with refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa. She said participating in CGI U “is the most exciting opportunity I can think of at this stage of our project.” She added, “The fact that we’ll be surrounded by so many highly motivated people from all over the world really excites me—particularly in the human rights and conflict resolution space. I’m excited to see what others are doing and feed off their energy.”

Another group of CGI U students—Camila Simons, Aarambh Pradhan, and Blair Childs-Biscoe—is working to increase college preparation for Boston high school students from immigrant families. In early 2018, they will survey students to learn more about the barriers they face when applying for and enrolling in college, and then they hope to partner with other local organizations to hold workshops to fill these gaps.

Vy Thai, SSH’19, is a co-founder of Mekong Livelihoods and is participating in the Clinton Global Initiative University this weekend at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Pradhan and Simons said they are motivated by their personal experiences. From growing up in Nepal and living in Bangladesh and Indonesia, Pradhan, SSH/DMSB’19, said he’s worked with communities without prominent access to education. Simons’ mother is from Colombia, though her father is from the U.S. and they both helped her through the college application process. But from her work in the Latin American Student Organization, she said she’s met other young people who need that same guidance. “There needs to be more support for first-generation students and students who come from immigrant families,” said Simons, E’19.

Childs-Biscoe, who has worked on efforts both on campus and on co-op earlier this year at Oxfam America to support immigrants, added: “Growing up I’ve had many friends and family who are immigrants, and I think it is important to be an ally in empowering these communities.”

Empowering and educating others

Second-year law student Safira Castro, L’19, a social justice advocate who grew up in Mexico, is focused on advocacy and combating stigma about LGBTQ and “Two Spirit” people in American Indian and other indigenous communities throughout the U.S. and the Americas. Castro said “Two Spirit” is an indigenous concept that goes beyond LGBTQ, referring also to their traditional roles in their communities and culture—and something that didn’t carry stigma pre-colonialism. She is eager to participate in CGI U, and said her project’s goal is to organize in coalition with other indigenous advocates to coordinate speaking events and other activities that promote education and acceptance both within and outside these indigenous communities.

Hang Tran, DMSB’19, is a co-founder of Mekong Livelihoods and is participating in the Clinton Global Initiative University at Northeastern this weekend. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Vy Thai, SSH’19, and Hang Tran, DMSB’19, are the co-founders of Mekong Livelihoods. The organization’s mission is to educate and empower disadvantaged young women in Vietnam’s Greater Mekong Delta region, where Thai grew up. Its particular emphasis on reducing the number of young women who leave school to marry men outside the country through a “brides trading industry” carried out by illegal marriage brokers. In November, they will launch a pilot program primarily for female students and their families that is designed to help young women gain confidence and knowledge to make suitable life choices, whether or not they choose to go abroad.

Of participating in CGI U, Thai said, “Being one of the students from Northeastern, this is a good opportunity to meet other students from around the world and also bring the perspective of our university, which is doing a lot of great work.”