Fellow Spotlight

Interview with Miami Fellow, Constance Thurmond

Constance Thurmond, a MCC15 and Fellowship alumna, studied Philosophy and Mandarin at Miami Dade. Now, she is headed to Yale for the last two years of her undergraduate program. We were honored to interview her and learn from her as she reflected on her time as a MCN Fellow. 

Please note: the answers have been reformatted into the third person voice. 

I understand that you’re involved with the Human Rights Alliance at your college, how did you become interested in this work?

When Constance was sixteen years old, she attended a fundraising event to increase the awareness of local sex trafficking. She was faced with the horrors of sex trafficking inflicting the world, and especially, the area around her. She was appalled and shocked to learn that boys and girls, just like her, were ensnared in this monstrosity. Although she was at first dismayed by this information, she then became inspired to face this injustice head on, instead of shrinking in its enormity. In rearview, that was the moment that sparked her journey into the social impact sector. 

You attended the fellowship right after the conference, what was your initial motivation to beginning the fellowship?

Constance heard about the fellowship when she attended the 2015 MCN conference at the United Nations in New York. She learned that the fellowship would open up a new hubsite in Miami, where Constance went to school. As she had just been thrown into the position of  president of Human Rights Alliance, she felt insecure in her knowledge about organizations, leadership ability and to how to mobilize students. Passion was the only thing she was really sure of. After attending MCC15, she knew that the fellowship would give her the necessary skills to manage the club, get involved in the community and to truly make an impact, especially in combating sextrafficking. She wanted to be surrounded by a community that would encourage, teach and inspire her, which she found in the fellowship.

How has participating in the fellowship impacted you and your work?

Before the Fellowship, Constance had not had the chance to learn her strengths and weaknesses as a leader. By pairing the guidance of the fellowship with her newfound role as president of Human Rights Alliance, she was able to flex her pipes as an organizer, gain invaluable skills and have the supportive community needed to learn from her mistakes. Constance cites depth  as one of the most valuable aspects of the Fellowship. She was not only able to dig deeper into the topics presented at the conference, but also had the time and space to build meaningful relationships with the Fellowship community. This community or peers served as a network of connections, but even more so, was a collective of teachers and learners. For example, she found that the session “Facilitated Peer Feedback” gave her the opportunity to receive unbiased, new perspectives from her peers about problems on her campus and organization. This created an ebb and flow of reciprocity, always giving and receiving support. The tools that she gained from the fellowship seemed invaluable to her. She commented on the importance of discussing ethical dilemmas (she studied philosophy), diving deeper into leadership transitions, as well as budgeting and finances. She found that not only her club and her professional life grew from this experience, but her personal life also flourished and became more organized. In her own words: “It’s not just something you will apply to college, but will apply to life.”

What would the perfect world look like? 

Constance started glowing when asked this question. It is clear that the vision of the world as it should be, inspires her actions daily. She talks about a world where there would be no such thing as the sustainable development goals, because the world would not have the need for it. She dreams about a society that doesn’t have words for poverty, hunger and violence. And with a snicker, she adds that this utopia should include full-time access to candy that doesn’t make people “fat”. Most importantly though, it would be a place where people are simply nice to one another.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about doing the fellowship?

“I would encourage you to do it [...] if you are a person who wants to grow,” she says. Constance talks about how the fellowship provided her with an open space for learning, growing and evaluating.

One word to describe your work: Passionate

What was your favorite part of conference? Speakers

Millennium Fellow Spotlight

Timothy Baiya Michael is one of our incredible Remote Fellows. He is from the Kaduna State in Nigeria, specifically the Bajju tribe. Interested in engineering and technological innovation, Timothy holds a degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Kaduna Polytechnic Institute. He is currently enrolled at the Federal University of Technology in Nigeria studying Industrial and Technology Education.

Timothy is a natural leader as he as served as the President of the Industrial and Technology Education Students Association and the Assistant General Secretary of the Kaduna State Students Association (Futminna Chapter), among others. When matriculating at the Federal University of Technology, Timothy wanted further engagement with student leadership, particularly in organizations dedicated to fostering new leaders. Future Generex became the perfect organization for him, as it is built around the ideals of student innovation, empowerment, and leadership, much like MCN. Timothy is now the President of this organization, and hopes to bring it to new heights in the upcoming year.

Millennium Fellow Spotlight

Kayle Valdez is a sophomore at Miami Dade Honors College, studying English and education. In the future, Kayle hopes to establish a middle school that no only focuses on academic education, but that is also rooted in world issues, grounded in an environment that encourages community involvement. As the Outreach Director of Human Rights Alliance at Miami Dade, Kayle has already demonstrated a passion for global issues and her unwavering dedication to more wide spread education regarding social issues...

Millennium Fellow Spotlight

By Beth He

UN Sustainable Development Goal #4: Ensure quality education for all and promote life long learning

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Prior to beginning undergraduate studies at Columbia University, Amelia Colban had been immersed in various different cultures. She grew up in Norway, and as a teenager, avidly traveled Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Spain. Intrigued by Wanderlust, she realized “that ‘culture’ existed in more forms that [she] could be aware of, both internationally and in the nuances of individual identities within any geographic confines.” Such conceptualization of cultural definitions attracted Amelia to an American university education because wanted to “engage worldly concepts from a [similar] theoretical, but intellectually immediate, approach.” Columbia gave her the opportunity to not only be surrounded by diverse individuals with interesting backgrounds, but also the thought-provoking education of“learning” by way of uncomfortable, but necessary conversations.

Driven by exploration and intellectual growth, Amelia has fully integrated herself in the world of academia. Such enthusiasm for trying everything has lead her to discovering a wide range of subjects from international human rights to the history of crime and policing in the U.S.

First Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP) at Columbia became a large part of her life through a friend. As Amelia remembers, “I overheard someone I knew mentions ‘students who have experienced homelessness.’” Homelessness? Here? At Columbia? An elite Ivy League school? It was the first time she had ever heard “homelessness” in the Columbia culture, in their vernacular. Amelia became quickly engaged in FLIP as homelessness turned out to be a more common than expected at Columbia, but often hidden in the shadows.

FLIP at Columbia was conceived through the realization of the marginalized, often invisible, issues of homelessness, food insecurity, and feelings of misplacement in an elite, sometimes privileged environment, common amongst first-generation and low-income students. Amelia now serves as the treasurer of FLIP Columbia and is among the founders of FLIP National, whose mission is to reach many more U.S. university campuses. Through bringing these issues to light and encouraging an open dialogue, FLIP hopes to redirect the conversation away from stigmatizing financial hardship to fostering resources and a community of empowerment to first generation and low-income students.

Since its inception, FLIP at Columbia has received tremendous support from the university, alumni, and other supporters from gaining national attention. With this, Amelia plans on helping FLIP at Columbia grow to include more students in the conversation, creating a more aware, open, and respectful campus environment.

Through each member, FLIP at Columbia is creating a revitalized community of empowered students to “advocate for and create resources for an often marginalized group and increase the consciousness of the specific challenges that emerge on an institutional and campus wide level.”  They have implemented incredible projects that demonstrate the mission, value, and impacts of the organization in providing previously unmanaged, often inaccessible, resources.

Food Insecurity Initiatives: New York is Expensive! Columbia University (CU) Meal Share, a dining hall swipes-sharing platform, was one of FLIP's earliest initiatives. It quickly gained a lot of traction and the student group recently expanded it into a three-pronged system. Now, CU Meal Share is accompanied by the Emergency Meal Fund, a swipes-bank program operated by Columbia Dining Services, as well as a mobile app, Swipes, that connects students in various dining halls with students who need access.

Columbia University Class Confessions: CUCC is a social media forum in which students can anonymously share their experiences and challenges. These emotionally stirring confessions have educated the student body and the administration alike about complicated facets of low-income students' issues so they are better equipped to address them. Many students have written how food insecurity, homelessness, imposter syndrome, illegal work, and a lack of institutional support is a part of the reality they live in order to make it through Columbia. The content from this page has sparked extensive media coverage as well as extended conversations on campus between students, administrators, and faculty.

Textbook Lending library: FLIP at Columbia collected over a thousand commonly required textbooks through a book drive to then redistribute otherwise expensive reading materials.

Coat Drive: Collection and redistribution of high-quality winter coats to students who have yet to acquire the necessary outerwear for living in the Northeast.

Q-FLIP: This is a co-sponsored program by QuestBridge and FLIP at Columbia. It pairs incoming students from underrepresented socioeconomic backgrounds with more seasoned peers to help them navigate struggles related to being first-gen/low-income, including financial restrictions, feeling out of place (imposter syndrome), and feeling underprepared by their (relative to Columbia) nontraditional academic backgrounds. Though in its first year, the program's enrollment is already in the hundreds.

Homelessness Initiative: This program just launched to connect students in need of housing for a time period with others who have extra space, while we work with the school to implement institutional housing security protocols. (Barnard, Columbia's sister school, closes dormitories during winter break. Students who cannot afford to go home, or who do not have a home to return to, lack affordable housing options between semesters. This has been the focus of the initiative in its first few days.)

Being a college student is stressful enough; no student should have to worry about a finding a safe place to sleep. Directly connected to the UN’s 4th Sustainable Development Goal, everyone should have the opportunity for quality education without worrying about basic necessities.

Amelia became an MCN Fellow because she was “enthralled by the prospect of engaging in a dialogue with other students and with experts advocating for equal opportunity in higher education.” With the initiation and development of FLIP National, the MCN Fellowship has given Amelia the platform for dialogue about social issues and the formulated the skills to be a better leader. She is more encouraged and determined than ever to resolve inequality within institutions of higher education for years to come.

Interested in donating? Want to learn more about FLIP at Columbia? Contact: info@flipnational.org

Millennium Fellow Spotlight

By Beth He 

“Gear up and Make Change”

Wali Sabuhi is a junior at Boston University (BU) studying Biomedical Engineering. Like millions of freshmen across the United States, Wali entered university wanting to make a local difference, and eagerly sought opportunities to expand and develop his skills and interest. As a freshman at BU, he joined Engineers Without Borders (EWB) as it seemed like the perfect opportunity to apply the skills of the classroom to real world issues. Wali did not anticipate how much EWB would impact his undergraduate experience and understanding of global development. Throughout his time at BU, Wali has become more involved in the leadership of EWB-BU, as he, after serving as a Hygiene & Sanitation Team Technical Lead, now serves as the Networking & Social Chair. Driven by student initiatives and inspired by the complexity of global development, Wali is committed to contributing to the UN’s Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Through support from BU College of Engineering and corporate sponsors, EWB-BU is able to employ small teams of students to travel to their community partners abroad and help implement the project designs. For the past four years, EWB-BU has been working closely with Naluja, a community in Zambia, on developing projects that have recently begun focusing on water sustainability. Wali was a member of the team last summer and spent three weeks in rural Zambia. He speaks of Zambia with such fondness, genuine joy and respect.

“It is beautiful,” a way Wali describes not only the scenery, but also the people and culture. It was in Zambia, traveling through the rural communities, that Wali discovered more to EWB than being a great engineer. It is of equal importance that partnerships and locally driven motivation are fostered to ensure sustainability and long-term efficacy.

EWB-BU students work throughout the calendar year to create, plan, and design successful projects for their partnering community in Zambia. During the twelve months in Boston, there is a major emphasis on building leadership, broadening student’s horizons, working across disciplines, and sharing resources throughout the project development process. Through the stress and chaos of college life, it is often difficult to see the bigger picture of their organization.  In Zambia, Wali notes: “Everything you have worked toward is right there in front of you.” It is a moment of reflection, appreciation, and tremendous purpose that can be brought back to BU’s campus.

Community ownership is very important to EWB-BU. They are committed to ensuring that their projects are not only wanted by the community, but also feasible in rural Zambia. As such, EWB-BU is dedicated to valuing projects as a shared initiative and collaboration between its students and the members of Naluja.

Cultural Exchange: During Wali’s time in Zambia, he was able to interact with the chapter’s partners is Zambia. He remembers a nurse at the maternal health clinic who is the most “inspirational person [he’s] met.” Wali is always excited and passionate to share his experience in Zambia with other MCN fellows and his peers at EWB-BU. Experiences in Zambia have not only created inspiration but have also educated the EWB community on the importance of its projects and how they can be optimized for positive impact.

Sustainability of projects is significant to EWB-BU. After EWB-BU’s recently receiving a corporate sponsorship from Boeing (the second corporate grant awarded to the chapter), Wali is excited to work on growing EWB-BU by expanding water-related projects, solidifying local contacts, and empowering local change-makers to monitor projects. Wali and EWB-BU have set no ceiling to the chapter’s goals and continue to create bigger impact plans.

EWB-BU and time in Zambia have encouraged Wali to pursue a career in global development. He is in particular interested in global health and progress toward achieving the SDGs. For now, Wali is a key member of the ground network of university students dedicated to international development. As Wali eloquently put, “in 15 years, we [university students] will be the professionals playing pivotal parts in global development, whether it be through technology, advocacy, or policy.” Wali and MCN share the belief that investment in college students is the future for creating a more equitable world. 

For more information about BU EWB, and how to donate: http://www.ewbbu.com/