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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/

Voluntourism & The Donor Perspective: February Hub Site

Both Fellowship Circles from the Millennium Campus Network Fellowship Program and other student leaders gathered last night for a highly successful and productive Hub Site meeting focused on Voluntourism and Understanding the Donor Perspective. Fellows explored new aspects of student-led organizations working in the field international development while also challenging themselves to adapt constructive definitions and expectations.

For the first half of the meeting, the Fellows explored the growing phenomenon of “Voluntourism,” or the combination of volunteering and travel as an experience. Through analysis of various case studies, they wrestled with the question: “How do we develop compassionate, educated people while respecting human dignity, individual agency, and professional capacity of those whose lives we seek to improve?” Ultimately, the Fellows concluded that thinking ahead and asking questions are crucial tools for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the harm of Voluntourism.

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John Beahm, Executive Director of Jenzabar Foundation, and Steven Fox, Managing Director at Sunizorro Investments, joined the Fellows for the second half of the meeting, focused on Understanding the Donor Perspective. With substantial experience in the field of investment, their insights proved extremely valuable for Fellows interested in expanding their respective organizations’ funding in the future. Ultimately, the changing power imbalance of traditional donor-grantee relationships necessitates a personal connection with prospective donors, as well as a concise and compelling demonstration of realistic potential impact.

They emphasized the importance of sharing impact measurement reports, infographics, and long-term plans. The point was raised that often, the person you are approaching with your grant proposal is not the sole decision maker, so it is important to be patient. "Persistence shows passion," but there is a balance you should find in following up multiple times. Sometimes, a "no" to a grant application means "not yet," and you can keep a foundation on the backburner for the future. Needless to say, the Fellows left with a surplus of new information to apply to their student-led organizations.

Sam Vaghar, Executive Director of Millennium Campus Network, added his perspective, reminding Fellows of the definition of philanthropy: “it’s not all about the money” and that donors “give back in so many ways.”

Philanthropy (n). altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons, by endowment of institutions of learning and hospitals, and by generosity to other socially useful purposes.