Fourteen students participated in Clinton Global Initiative University conference in Arizona
The original design was conceptualized in Sarah Masters’ machine design class for mechanical
engineering students. Two years later, she and her team have prototyped an adaptive rowing
device, which would make the sport of rowing accessible to people with physical disabilities.
Sarah Masters, a senior mechanical engineering major, was one of 14 students to share her innovative idea at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference at Arizona State University this past weekend.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Masters said. “We are just so glad to be a part of it.”
She and her team, known as QuadCrew, participated in the conference for their first time this year.
CGI U was modeled after the Clinton Global Initiative, which was founded by former President Bill Clinton in 2005. The initiative seeks to bring together global leaders and create innovative solutions to pressing world issues.
Prior to attending the conference, students proposed their “Commitments to Action” or “new, specific and measurable initiatives that address pressing challenges on campus, in local communities or around the world,” according to the program’s mission statement.
The university joined the CGI U Network last year to to support and mentor students as well as to provide funding for innovative student initiatives. This year, the network expanded to include more than 50 colleges and universities and will host more than 1,200 students from around the globe, said graduate student Noel Shadowen, a university liaison for the program.
“It seemed like a great opportunity for our students to not only continue with their service learning projects but also be a part of a bigger picture,” said Nancy Guerra, director of the Institute for Global Studies, which provides $10,000 in funding to help participants bring their plans to action. “For many of our students, it really can be a life changing experience to see how different people from different parts of the United States and different parts of the world live.”
Psychology professor Tim Fowles serves as the faculty advisor to students participating in the program and attended the conference last year.
“We are available to help students organize ideas and navigate through the application process,” Shadowen said. “We want to support student engagement on campus.”
Senior Kelsey McWilliams, who attended this past weekend, said she enjoyed the various talks she attended, and she appreciated the way the conference was able to related science with public policy. However, the panels were not McWilliams’ favorite part of the conference.
McWilliams said she enjoyed the conference not because of the talks but because of the different people she was able to talk to — people, she said, who will help her project further. She said the experience changed her.
“I would just encourage as many students who have projects or have ideas to go to something like this,” McWilliams said. “ It was just so eye opening. [The experience] not only helps your projects, but it helps in life.”
Junior leadership major Garrison Davis presented his idea known as “The Little Bob Initiative,” which proposes to create generators powered via exercise. Davis said his plan calls for installing generators on the exercise machines in the Carpenter Sports Building, also known to students as the Little Bob. Davis said he hopes to have a working prototype and implement the system by next fall.
Garrison said developed his idea while reading about a bicycle system used to power a laundry room.
“When I walk around, I see a lot of people that are content and willing to accept things as they are,” Garrison said. “People don’t really ask why. They just accept it, but there’s so much potential for change in everything that we do.”
According to the program’s website, CGI U’s five focus areas include education, the environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health.
“Every day we wake up, there is so much we can do to make things better,” Garrison said. “I want to be one of those people. I don’t want to be dragged into the future. I want to be the future.”
This year’s conference hosted several keynote speakers, including founder former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, their daughter Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation and comedian and talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. Davis said he is most looking forward to seeing Bill Clinton speak at the conference.
“I’m going to give him my business card,” Davis jokingly said prior to attending the conference. “He’s going to know my name.”
He said he was looking forward to meeting other students with a similar passion for leadership and change, Davis said.
“I think we’re at a unique time in history,” Davis said. “You have Facebook, Google and all of these technological companies that push the old ways of business out. Now you see all of these young people coming up. It’s our time to shine and make the world what we want it to be.”
Masters said she and her team, Molly Wessel and Matthew Imm, both senior biomedical engineering students, looked forward to attending a luncheon about empowering young girls and women. Masters, who is in the Society of Women Engineers, said she thinks it is important to focus on outreach and is looking forward to meeting other students within the sector.
The members of the QuadCrew hope to commercialize their prototype and make the sport of rowing accessible to individuals with disabilities. The team would not be where they are today without the help of assistant mechanical engineering professor Jenni Buckley, Masters said.
“She is an incredible advisor and mentor,” Masters said. “We went to the women’s rowing practices every Friday morning at 5 a.m. for weeks, and she was there with us every time. It was a lot of time to commit to the project—and still is—but she’s been with us every step of the way.”
Other students representing the university included James Leitner, Alexa Rivadeneira, Melany Justice, Elizabeth Quartararo, Samantha Meehan, Kelsey McWilliams, Marta Shakhazizian, Sarah Mottram, Jaewoong Yoo and Emily Zhang, who submitted a proposal but is unable to attend the conference this weekend.
Students were allowed to submit proposals individually or as part of a team, Shadowen said. The program encouraged students to tackle global challenge with concrete plans and measurable action.
“I think people underestimate the power of young people all the time,” Masters said. “There really is so much that every person in this world can do. It honestly doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are as long as you can find the drive to do it.”
Disclosure: Elizabeth Quartararo is on the staff of The Review and participated in 2014 CGIU event.