Clinton initiative seeks to help students make global impact
Nathan Santel, with the Washington University facilities department, hangs banners on light posts around the university on Tuesday, April, 2, 2013. The banners are being hung in preparations for Clinton Global Initiative University at Washington University that will be held April 5-7. Photo By David Carson, email@example.com
April 03, 2013 12:30 am • By Elisa Crouch
Four students hope an initiative by former U.S. President Bill Clinton will help launch their plan to use landscaping to remove contaminants from vacant lots in St. Louis. Another wants to make inexpensive prosthetics with a device almost small enough to fit into a backpack. Two others want to launch a smoking quit line in China.
All have proven that their ideas are viable enough to participate in an unusual gathering at Washington University this weekend.
A thousand students representing all states and 75 countries will take part in the sixth annual Clinton Global Initiative University, aimed at tackling such global challenges as education, public health, environment and climate change, and human rights.
The agenda includes a session Saturday night between Clinton and Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” Panels involve people such as Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, and Muhammad Yunus, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to eliminate poverty.
The event will conclude Sunday with a volunteer project at Gateway STEM High, a magnet school in St. Louis that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math education. There, volunteers will paint and do other improvements to the grounds. Later, 100 solar panels will be installed on the school’s roof to reduce energy costs and provide a renewable energy teaching tool.
“I especially like doing things in and around schools that have a community impact,” Clinton said in an interview with reporters Tuesday.“I like Gateway STEM because it’s committed to raising the level of STEM knowledge and involvement among kids that often get left out and left behind.”
This weekend’s meeting is an outgrowth of the William J.Clinton Foundation, which Clinton began in 2001. The foundation, based at Clinton’s offices in New York, has a number of initiatives aimed at domestic challenges such as job creation and childhood obesity, as well as global issues such as climate change and worldwide poverty.
The event will have an emphasis on empowering women and girls worldwide, preventing prescription drug misuse and promoting STEM education. Chelsea Clinton will moderate one of the panels.
The three-day event is modeled after the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting, a nonpartisan convention held each fall of global, business and philanthropic leaders to work on solutions to world problems in areas such as the environment, energy and health. The university version takes place at a different campus each year. Last year it was held at George Washington University in Washington.
To take part, students needed to pitch action plans. The Clinton Global Initiative selected the students based on their projects.
Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton said the conference fits well with the school’s focus on community service. “This is a conference that is not only stimulating great ideas about how to address the world’s problems, but, most important, it is a venue to learn how to implement these great ideas,” he said.
Of the students taking part, 200 are from Washington University, including Ian Smith, an undergraduate and Iraq war veteran whose portable 3D printing device could potentially provide 3 million amputees worldwide access to artificial fingers and limbs.
Funmilola Oladini is a pre-med student whose plan is to educate health advocates in her Nigerian hometown about diabetes and hypertension — diseases that are increasing as fast food restaurants proliferate there.
Both see the weekend as a chance to tap into networks and funding that could otherwise be out of reach.
“This is huge,” Smith said. “I consider myself lucky whenever I can contribute to the world or society at large.”
This year’s program in St. Louis will include more than $400,000 in available funding for students to carry out their commitments, through a network of 32 colleges and universities that have provided seed money.
“There will be a lot of interesting ideas that if other people with more resources and a bigger network would take up it could literally have a profound impact on the world,” Clinton said.
In 2010, a group of Vanderbilt University students pitched their idea at the initiative’s meeting at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. One of them, Kyle McCollom, a graduate of St. Louis University High School, laid out a plan to start a custom T-shirt company that would employ former criminal offenders from a halfway house in Nashville, Tenn. Three years later, Triple Thread Apparel has created more than 30 jobs and job-training opportunities and sold over 20,000 shirts, McCollom said.
To host the meeting, Washington University needed an action plan of its own. The university will invest $30 million over six years to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, Hank Webber, the university’s executive vice chancellor for administration, announced last week. The aim is to scale emissions back by 22 percent by 2020, reverting to 1990 levels.
The cuts would come through better waste management, new heating and cooling, and greater energy efficiency. It would pay for itself in eight to 10 years.
“This takes what we’re doing to the next level,” Webber said.
Clinton said his hope for the initiative is that students leave the meeting believing they can make a difference in areas they feel strongly about.
“Having all these young people come to CGIU, it may be more inspiring for them to be around each other than to have me there,” Clinton said. “I want them to imagine that they can actually have an impact, that their ideas count, that their deepest concerns are things they can actually act on.”
Kevin McDermott of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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