January 31, 2015
Four Hamilton College students will join thousands of other students from all over the world along with President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea when they attend the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) conference at the University of Miami in March. Jose Vazquez ’15, Ryan Ong ’16, Sharif Shrestha ’17 and Tsion Tesfaye ’16 applied to, and were accepted by, the CGIU to join other students, university representatives, topic experts and celebrities in order to “discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing challenges,” according to the CGIU website. Hamilton College is a member of the CGIU network, which requires a university provide a minimum of $10,000 in funding to CGIU student representatives from the school. Accordingly, the Levitt Center along with other offices such as Student Activities and the Dean of Faculty, through the Class of 1979 Travel Fund, will help cover the cost of transportation to the conference.
Before applying, each student had to come up with a commitment to action, in which he or she must propose “new, specific, and measurable initiatives that address pressing challenges on campus, in local communities, or around the world.” Since the first CGIU in 2008, students have made more than 4,800 commitments to action. This is the first year Hamilton is sending students to the conference, having just become a member of the CGIU network this past summer. Some previous commitment projects have included manufacturing wheelchairs for developing countries, or creating campus bike share programs.
The students representing Hamilton College have committed to ambitious and diverse projects. Vazquez and Ong are teaming up to combat LGBT homelessness with their project entitled Disclosure Group. According to Ong, they “want to activate and educate our supporters through clothing apparel and social media platforms.” All proceeds raised through sales from Disclosure Group’s apparel sale will be given to the Ali Forney Center, the largest homeless LGBTQ youth center, located in New York City. Ong believes that the successful gay marriage movement has distracted from the issue of LGBT homelessness. Vazquez points out that according to a national think tank at the UCLA School of Law, “approximately 40 percent of homeless youth served by drop-in centers, street outreach programs, and housing programs are of the LGBTQ community,” which is especially high given that only 5-10 percent of the youth population is LGBT.
Shrestha, on the other hand, is looking to tackle poverty in his home country of Nepal. His project, which he calls the Herbs Cooperative for Economic Empowerment, aims to alleviate poverty and gender disparity in jobs in his village “by starting a local, self-sustaining herb cooperative emphasizing on share ownership by men and women.” Finally, Tesfaye’s project is called Youth for Ethiopia, a “leadership and social innovation training program for high school students in Ethiopia.” Tesfaye is passionate about both education reforms in developing countries and working with youth, so this project will allow her to tie both of her interests together.
Each of these Hamilton students look forward to gaining new skills quite a bit from their time at CGIU. Vazquez hopes “to learn strategies in raising awareness that involve social justice and how our organization can have more influence in the realm of public policy.” At the same time, Shrestha hopes to use CGIU as a way to get feedback on his project. “Through the conversations with my fellow participants and mentorship from leaders and facilitators, I expect to get various perspectives on my project and use them to refine my project,” he said. Along the same lines, Tesfaye also hopes to learn as much as she can from other students and from guest speakers at the event.
Ong, Vazquez, Shrestha and Tesfaye each credited the Levitt Center for the guidance and support it has given them in the application process. Tesfaye specifically thanked Chris Willemsen for encouraging her to apply to CGIU. Similarly, Shrestha thanks the Levitt Center for helping him focus his ideas because “in its infancy, [he] didn’t know where [he] was headed with it.” The Levitt Center also encouraged Ong to apply after he took party in the Levitt Center’s Social Innovations Fellows program last spring.