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25 Northwestern Students Accepted to Clinton Global Initiative University Program

Mike M. McMahon | June 1, 2018
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This October, 25 Northwestern University students will join experts and leaders from around the world to develop innovative solutions to today’s most pressing challenges. The 11th annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) conference is a three-day, invitation-only leadership summit that will bring together approximately 1,500 students from 397 schools and 112 countries. Northwestern joined the CGI U Network in 2014 with organizational representation from the Institute of Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN).

Participants from Northwestern who were selected following a rigorous application process include:

  • Rafah Ali
  • Archit Baskaran
  • Suruchi Batra
  • Shristi Dugar
  • Zach Hennenfent
  • Monica Hsu
  • Liz Jackson
  • Jason Kerr
  • Michelle Kim
  • Sophia Liu
  • Robbie Markus
  • Varun Mehta
  • Christina Parker
  • Kaitlyn Poindexter
  • Maegan Ramchal
  • Sanjeev Saravanakumar
  • Hernando Sevilla-Garcia
  • Meilynn Shi
  • Deborah Shoola
  • Saloni Singhvi
  • Patricia Tang
  • Colin Wang
  • Chloe Wong
  • Elise Wu
  • Xinlei Zhu

Founded by President Bill Clinton in 2007, CGI U networks the innovation talents of students and topic experts to foster student-led actions that address social and environmental sustainability issues in communities around the world. The CGI U event rotates among member institutions and will be held at the University of Chicago this year.

As a prerequisite for attending the conference, all students must work individually or in teams to develop “Commitments to Action”—new, specific, and measurable initiatives that address one or more of CGI U’s five focus areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health. Participants attend skill building workshops and meet with future mentors, investors, and professionals in related fields who become influential in launching their Commitments. Hosted by Bill and Chelsea Clinton, past speakers at CGI U include global policy makers, social enterprise leaders, scholars, and commentators such as Madeleine Albright, Jack Dorsey, John Lewis, Jimmy Wales, Muhammad Yunus, Hawa Abdi Diblawe, and Stephen Colbert (C ’86, H ’11).

“Being invited to discuss our Commitment to Action at CGI U means that our project will have the necessary platform to engage with the appropriate stakeholders in order to make this dream a reality,” says Hernando Sevilla-Garcia, a graduate student of higher education administration and policy at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy. His team’s Commitment to Action is focused on building an interdisciplinary, service-learning study abroad program for underserved Latinx students—a group that comprises 17.3 percent of enrollment in higher education in the US but only 9.7 percent of students studying abroad. “This once-in-a-lifetime networking opportunity will allow our project to build collaborative partnerships to enhance the final outcome,” he says.

ISEN works closely with student teams to develop and implement impactful Commitments to Action and funds their participation at the event. Launched in 2016, ISEN’s Resnick Family Social Impact Program also provides scale-up project assistance of up to $25,000 to interdisciplinary Northwestern student teams at CGI U and elsewhere.

A full list of Northwestern 2018 attendees and summaries of their Commitments to Action are included below:

Commitment Name: Community Currency Corporation
CGI U Participants: Zach Hennenfent (WCAS ’19 anticipated), Jason Kerr (WCAS ’19 anticipated), Robbie Markus (C ’19 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: Community Currency is a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded in 2016 that seeks to collect unused foreign currency from international travelers via donation receptacles in O’Hare Airport and then repurpose these funds to cover the cost of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago annual summer camps to participating families. Post-converted proceeds subsidize the summer camps, which provide participants with academic programming to prevent summer learning loss. However, the cost of the summer camps makes them financially inaccessible to many families. We seek to increase enrollment in these camps and reduce the prevalence of summer learning loss. 

Commitment Name: FuelED
CGI U Participants: Rafah Ali (McC ’19 anticipated), Xinlei Zhu (Medill/WCAS ’19 anticipated), Saloni Singhvi (WCAS ’19 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: In 2018, Rafah Ali, Saloni Singhvi, and Courtney Zhu committed to develop FuelED, a community-based education framework to address malnutrition in low-income areas in Evanston, Illinois. The team will build an after-school program with a 3-pronged curriculum focusing on nutrition, cooking, and gardening. In a partnership with national non-profit Common Threads, the group will tailor the curriculum to the context, resources, and needs of the selected Evanston communities. They will train and pay underemployed and unemployed local residents to become “community health leaders,” who will teach the program and be involved in assessment, design, implementation, and evaluation of FuelED. By June 2020, the group expects to educate 20-40 middle school students in FuelED’s pilot program. 

Commitment Name: Health Connections
CGI U Participants: Colin Wang (WCAS ’18 anticipated), Sanjeev Saravanakumar (WCAS ’18 anticipated), Meilynn Shi (FSM/WCAS ’20 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: Health Connections enables healthcare providers to “prescribe” patients with not just medicine but basic needs, such as food, heat, and safe housing—social determinants that deeply impact health outcomes. The team will work with patients one-on-one after discharge to connect them with needed community-based resources, which would come from a database compiled by Health Connections. Since many hospitals currently lack an effective follow-up system, Health Connections will also track patient progress on a weekly basis to promote long-term preventive health and reduce repeat patient visits. Through focusing on the needs of specific communities in Chicago, partnering with small clinics and organizations like Health Leads, Health Connections can more effectively tackle health equity and accessibility barriers for underserved areas in Chicago. 

Commitment Name: Himalaya Project
CGI U Participants: Shristi Dugar (McC ’19 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: In 2016, Hannah Kuperschmid and Shristi Dugar committed to create a sustainable framework to provide education and public health to the remote Himalayan region of Dolpo in Nepal. The goal of Himalaya Project ( is to improve the quality of life in Dolpo by encouraging independence, equal opportunity, and sustainable practices while preserving traditional Tibetan medicine. They will partner with local high schools that are willing to integrate Community Amchi Assistant (CAA) curriculum in their lessons, to expose kids in Dolpo to Himalayan-medicine practices and encourage them to provide health services to their community by becoming certified Tibetan-medicine practitioners. Their project expects to preserve the declining practice of Amchis by gaining official recognition for Amchi medicine in Nepal by spring 2019. 

Commitment Name: Juntos: Chicago HSI's Abroad
CGI U Participants: Liz Jackson (SESP ‘20 anticipated), Hernando Sevilla-Garcia (SESP ‘20 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: In 2018, Hernando Sevilla-Garcia, Liz Jackson, and Arzu Singh committed to creating an interdisciplinary, service-learning, faculty-led study abroad program in Mexico for Latinx students from three Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) in Chicago. The team will partner with three HSIs, Northwestern University, study abroad organizations, and an affiliate university in Mexico to develop a curriculum with a service-learning component. The team’s goal is to send the first cohort of 7-10 students in summer of 2020 for a two-week program.  This program will increase the number of Latinx students from HSIs studying abroad and enhance cultural exchange between future leaders of Mexico and the United States at a time of political tension. 

Commitment Name: Menstrual Hygiene in Rural India: A Sustainable Approach (Project RISHI)
CGI U Participants: Suruchi Batra (McC ’20 anticipated), Maegan Ramchal (WCAS ’19 anticipated), Monica Hsu (WCAS ’19 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: Project RISHI, a Northwestern student group focused on implementing sustainable health solutions in Charnia, a village in India, aims to bring subsidized biodegradable menstrual hygiene products to women by partnering with local health workers and using them as a medium to develop a sustainable implementation process. Project RISHI plans to determine the appropriate form of menstrual hygiene product based upon Charnia’s preferences and current conditions within its environment. One potential partner is Saathi Pads, a distributor of biodegradable disposable pads. To complement the distribution system, Project RISHI will leverage the expertise of local public health workers to lead workshops that educate women on menstrual hygiene. The project hopes to foster discussion that empowers women and tackles the cultural stigma. 

Commitment Name: Musica A Tutti: Teaching Arts Education Through Service
CGI U Participants: Patricia Tang (BSM/WCAS/Medill ’21 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: In 2018, Patricia Tang and Alex Chien committed to creating a high school music education curriculum to stimulate student interest in arts advocacy. They will work alongside nationally-recognized music education nonprofits to develop a comprehensive curriculum that teaches students to enact change through music. They will contact high schools with strong music programs in the San Francisco Bay Area to pilot this curriculum, and will reach out to SF-area music education nonprofits and student organizations to either create new student-led initiatives or strengthen existing initiatives through integration with this curriculum. Expected outcomes include: increased student involvement in extracurricular music education projects, an increase in student-run arts initiatives, and stronger relationships between student groups and local arts education nonprofits. 

Commitment Name: Plan J
CGI U Participants: Elise Wu (WCAS ’19 anticipated), Deborah Shoola (WCAS ’20 anticipated), Chloe Wong (WCAS ’21 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: In 2018, Chloe Wong, Deborah Shoola, and Elise Wu committed to create “Plan J,” a yearlong semi-monthly series of comprehensive sexual health workshops for the 15 girls, ages 10-17, currently incarcerated at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center (CCJDC) in Chicago. Plan J addresses the lack of health education incarcerated girls receive. It will focus on consent, safe sex, sexuality, social determinants of health, menstruation, STIs, and improving interpersonal relationships, overall providing them a chance to learn about these issues in a supportive environment. The group will partner with Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) and Women’s Center. The group expects, with this education, they will be better equipped to make choices leading to better health and economic outcomes. 

Commitment Name: Sustainable Seedlings: Community Gardens in Urban Areas
CGI U Participants: Christina Parker (SESP/WCAS ’20 anticipated), Kaitlyn Poindexter (WCAS ’20 anticipated), Sophia Liu (WCAS ’21 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: In 2018, Christina Parker, Kaitlyn Poindexter, and Sophia Liu committed to create a community-based gardening program to help combat food insecurity in the Chicagoland area. They will create a gardening curriculum to educate and give to community leaders and elementary school children, and aid them in implementing sustainable gardening programs. They will educate those involved about nutrition and healthy eating.  They will teach the children about entrepreneurship by working to sell the produce back to the community for a low price. They will partner with local organizations and schools to gather supplies, create a curriculum, and start a garden. The group expects to implement two fully functional, sustainable community gardens and have a foundation for expansion in 21 months. 

Commitment Name: The Indian Mental Health Empowerment (I.M.H.E.) Initiative
CGI U Participants: Archit Baskaran (FSM ’21 anticipated), Varun Mehta (WCAS ’18 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: Culturally competent videos will be created addressing mental health challenges and illnesses, translated into Hindi and English. A 10-15 video series will be created and approved by mental health professionals. Videos will be uploaded to Varun’s online Youtube channel that already has over 800 followers. The main goal is to address stigma against mental health in Indian communities, particularly immigrant and ethnic Indian households. A confirmed partner in this project is I-AM SHAKTI, a mental health nonprofit/movement geared toward the same vision. The anticipated outcomes include bringing awareness of mental health into the consciousness of Indians worldwide and combating the stigmas precluding people from seeking help. 

Commitment Name: True Peace Microgreens
CGI U Participants: Michelle Kim (Medill ’19 anticipated)
Commitment Summary: Michelle will launch a vertical farming venture in New York City that will grow and deliver microgreens to urban residents, as part of the effort to source food grown close and encourage healthy lifestyles. These young plants will be grown in a system that uses 95 percent less water than traditional farming practices and without any pesticides or agrochemicals. These microgreens will deliver fresh, nutrient-dense directly to consumers and local food businesses on a weekly basis with the goal of enriching citizens’ health and nutrition profiles in a convenient way. Michelle is also committed to tying social impact into her core mission of providing equal access to a vegetable source that makes healthy living easy, convenient, and affordable.