Two years ago, a Nazareth College delegation went to the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) conference to learn about opportunities for encouraging civic engagement. While there, the delegation surprisingly met a Nazareth student, Cherise Madigan ‘15, who was already leading a social enterprise project through CGI U which was founded in 2007. Madigan went on to create a non-profit organization, The Feminine Alliance, based on her CGI project.
Soon thereafter colleges and universities were invited to join CGI U as University Network Members. Nazareth joined and as a member now commits $10,000 in annual seed money to fund student projects and defray the cost of travel to the annual CGI conference. Students’ projects must be based on one of CGI U’s five focus areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, or public health.
Adam Lewandowski, associate director for Nazareth College’s Center for Civic Engagement, said that its CGI U commitment gives Nazareth a clear path to launching student-run social enterprises rather than funding projects on a case-by-case basis as was done previously. All students are required to work with a faculty or staff member or community partner as they develop their projects. Mr. Lewandowski collaborates with faculty across campus to provide students with the knowledge they need to participate in CGI U. This includes a Social Entrepreneurship course offered by the School of Management as well as strategy, communications, and development workshops.
This year 22 Nazareth students completed applications for CGI U projects, and ten were accepted. Ultimately, eight went to this year’s CGI U conference in Miami. Projects include a mental health smartphone app, a traveling library, and a documentary on body image, among others.
Room to Grow
Nazareth senior Danielle Mensing is continuing the project she began with CGI U last year. Her original commitment to action was to enhance awareness and responsiveness to issues faced by older adults and to strengthen services in home and hospital settings. She organized an event called “Social Change through Intergenerational Dialogue” at Nazareth which brought together 80 attendees to discuss challenges faced by older adults. One person approached her at the end of the event to say that she had made an important connection that would allow her to care for her mother at home rather than having her mother reside in the nursing home where she currently lived. That prompted Ms. Mensing to expand her commitment.
“I wanted to be able to reach out to a larger portion of the community because this attendee was one of many others in America who seek better and more efficient services to care for our aging family members,” said Ms. Mensing.
This year she will address how people age in the community, provide transformational learning, and improve access to resources by bringing together aspiring health professionals (from physical, occupational, speech and music therapies; nursing, social work, and special education) and community organizations to learn about and discuss perspectives and challenges faced by aging Americans and their families.
After submitting applications in the fall, students are notified in December if CGI U has accepted their proposals. Those who choose to move forward attend the CGI U conference in early March with about 1,000 other students. Attending the CGI U conference gives them the knowledge, skills and connections to get their projects off the ground, said Mr. Lewandowski.
Students have the opportunities to learn from world leaders, including President Clinton, and attend practical skill sessions such as how to measure project outcomes. There are “office hours” in which students can meet one-on-one with professionals. When Paul Lippert ’16 met with a clergyperson during office hours this year, it resulted in a book donation and $500 for his traveling library project. The final day at CGI U is a Day of Action. This year students served Liberty City in Miami through painting and gardening projects. As President Clinton passed by, Ms. Mensing asked him if he’d like to paint.
“He grabbed a brush and sat down holding collard greens from the garden in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. He talked to us about how they grew two-pound tomatoes on the farm where he grew up,” said Ms. Mensing. “It was an interesting moment that I won’t forget – talking to the President of the United States about food.”
Now that the conference has passed, students will fine-tune their projects and present them to a committee at Nazareth that decides on funding. Seed money generally ranges from $750 to $1500.
The benefit of participating in CGI U is that it allows students to go beyond simulation and beyond achieving success in a predefined program, said Mr. Lewandowski.
“CGI U projects are impressive and therefore give students a huge resume builder in addition to a distinguishing factor that sets them apart from other peers in their fields,” said Mr. Lewandowski. “Perhaps most importantly, CGI U allows students to make a difference in our world by putting their own ideas into action. It gives them confidence and a greater understanding of what it takes to complete a project.”