UD's Clinton Global Initiative University participants include, (from left, seated) Marta Shakhazizian, Jacob Joseph, Daniel Reyes and Noel Shadowen, UD graduate student and student adviser to the program; and (from left, standing) N'Kosi Oates, Xiaowen (Sharon) Qui,  James Leitner, Mike Wilson, Tim Fowles, who serves as faculty mentor, Erwing Fabian Cardozo and Sergio Pino.

Putting ideas into action

Eight from UD to attend Clinton Global Initiative meeting


4:10 p.m., April 1, 2013--The images in her photographic campaign are shocking. Her message is simple: “Junk kills. Eat responsibly.”

“Today, one in every three children in America is overweight or obese,” says Marta Shakhazizian, the campaign’s creator, an education major at the University of Delaware. “Even scarier, if left unabated, obesity will surpass smoking as the number-one leading cause of death in the U.S.”

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Shakhazizian, who is from Lincoln University, Pa., is one of eight UD students and recent graduates who have been selected to share their ideas at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), April 5-7, at Washington University in St. Louis. 

UD recently joined the network of more than 30 universities and colleges, founded by former President Bill Clinton to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses in solving world problems. More than 1,000 students from around the globe will meet to discuss their “Commitment to Action” proposals and to formulate concrete plans for implementation.

With seed funding from the University’s Institute for Global Studies (IGS), Shakhazizian is working to put her proposal for a healthy eating campaign in motion. She plans to start with the UD campus and then strengthen the campaign each year to eventually make a national impact.

“In the midst of the obesity epidemic, my goal is to publicize the inescapable health problems we will face if we do not make a change,” she says. “I hope to inspire adolescents to make healthier food choices, and, in effect, spread a message that is very dear to my heart.”

Two other UD student projects received seed funding from the IGS for their CGI U projects. 

Senior Mike Wilson, from Wilmington, Del., returned to college after a 31-year career at Hewlett-Packard to work on a bachelor’s degree in anthropology to add to his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and an MBA. He designed the Pre-kindergarten Reading Encouragement Project, or “PREP,” to help pre-schoolers from low-income families get off to a stronger start as learners, as research has shown how early literacy translates into better high school graduation rates and higher earnings. 

Wilson was notified on March 27 that his project has been selected as a semifinalist for the Resolution Social Venture Challenge Forum, opening the door to potentially more funding. Wilson will have the opportunity to make a formal presentation and answer questions from a panel of judges at the CGI U meeting.

“Children entering kindergarten come with differing reading abilities based on their family’s economic situations,” Wilson says. “Yet it’s not just money that influences early literacy, a lot depends on the support of those around them and the print environment of the home.”

Through PREP, Wilson wants to provide three- and four-year-olds from low-income backgrounds at two preschools in inner-city Wilmington with kits filled with letter and number activities and a subscription to a children’s magazine to increase their in-home reading and their potential for success in kindergarten and elementary school. 

Sergio Pino, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, and fellow students Erwing Cardozo and Irene Gutierrez — all from Bucaramanga (the “City of Parks”) in Colombia — aim to create “Farms of Hope” to provide “a sustainable restorative farming environment” for people forced to abandon their countryside homes and livelihoods as a result of internal conflict. There are more than 26 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world, with Colombia having among the highest numbers, at 3.9 million.

“We want to put into practice a sustainable model that will be economically supported by means of local farming and food processing activities, making it possible for displaced persons to pursue a self-sustainable life,” Pino explains.

“Farms of Hope represents a call of duty to provide help and share with others our abilities as persons and engineers,” Pino adds. “We believe we can help improve society by creating an out-of-the-box solution that involves the extraordinary capabilities of the faculty and students at the University of Delaware and at the Industrial University of Santander in Colombia.”

The Farms of Hope team will use its seed funding to launch the project near the students’ hometown in Colombia. Ultimately, Pino says, the students envision replicating the model to help displaced persons around the world.

Also representing UD at the CGI U meeting will be the following students and recent graduates and their projects: 

  • Jacob Joseph, a senior majoring in biological sciences from Swedesboro, N.J., wants to assist people with limited English proficiency (LEP) in his “Barriers to High Quality Health Care for LEP” project; 
  • James Leitner, a sophomore in environmental studies from Scotch Plains, N.J., is proposing “The Water Project,” to provide wells in Tanzania;
  • N’Kosi Oates, a junior in communications from Neptune, N.J., has proposed “No One Drops,” a program to encourage students to stay in school and pursue their high school diploma; 
  • Sharon Qiu, recent alumnus in accounting from Newark, Del., wants to “File Income Tax Returns for Low-Income Families”; 
  • Daniel Reyes, an alumnus in anthropology from West Milford, N.J., wants to connect low-income communities with local farmers practicing sustainable agriculture through the “Delaware Food Bank” project.

Timothy Fowles, assistant professor of psychology, will accompany the students as their faculty mentor. 

Noel Shadowen, doctoral student in clinical psychology, is the student adviser to CGI U. For more information about the program, contact her at nshadowen@psych.udel.edu or visit the CGI U Facebook site or the website.

Article by Tracey Bryant

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