Nicole O’Connell ’16 and Meaghan Mahoney ’14 were among approximately 1,000 undergraduate students from around the world selected to take part in the Clinton Global Initiative University this year. Former President Bill Clinton launched the University in 2007, modeled after the Clinton Global Initiative which brings together world leaders to take action on global challenges. The organization annually convenes undergraduate students to tackle the same issues and to train the next generation of world leaders. This year, students represented 80 different countries and all 50 states at the event that took place at Arizona State University, in Phoenix.
O’Connell and Mahoney learned about the conference through HWS faculty, the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, and the Centennial Center for Leadership, and each applied to take part in the event. HWS students have attended for the past several years.
As a prerequisite of the meeting, students develop their own “Commitments to Action,” initiatives that address pressing challenges on campus, locally or internationally. O’Connell and Mahoney have developed projects, “Balanced Bellies” and “Connecting Smiles,” respectively.
“Childhood hunger is something that should not exist in this world and Balanced Bellies will be a program to address this issue,” says O’Connell of her project.
The target population of Balanced Bellies is elementary students of the Geneva community. O’Connell believes Geneva’s children need a program that educates them about nutritious and economically friendly meal options. She hopes that in partnership with Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a nutritionist, and restaurants of Ontario County, youth will be able to attend monthly cooking seminars. These cooking seminars will be used to encourage positive nutrition habits on a limited budget.
Connecting Smiles is a community-based organization that Mahoney developed to connect college students with individuals with disabilities in their community through dance and movement workshops. Mahoney, who graduated from William Smith with a B.A. in writing and rhetoric and an education minor, presented the project as a participant in the 2013 Pitch competition.
The event included remarks by former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, as well as from a number of students, elected officials, corporate officers and non-profit leaders.
Both O’Connell and Mahoney were thrilled to have participated in the program.
O’Connell went to learn “more about what it means to be a global leader, what challenges other students face due to their geographical locations, and to gain connections to others who have diverse perspectives, leadership skills and project ideas,” she says. “Ideas are turned into action at the Clinton Global Initiative and I am humbled to have had the opportunity to work with fellow students from across the globe who are truly going to change the world.”
This fall, O’Connell will participate in the study abroad program in Australia and plans to start her Balanced Bellies program upon her return in the spring, as part of her Civic Engagement and Social Justice minor capstone project.
Mahoney says the event made a significant impact on her life. “The most amazing thing about the conference as a whole was the sense of diversity and equality. I took away so much from every person that I was able to talk to at this conference and am grateful and appreciative that I was able to attend.”