FLIP National

John Kotey

2015-2016 MCN Fellow | Undergraduate University: Columbia University in the City of New York | Degree: Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering | Place of Origin: Ghana

John graduates from Columbia University

John graduates from Columbia University

"The Millennium Campus Network’s annual conference in 2015 (MCC15) at the United Nations was a major turning point in my life. Before the conference, I was contemplating on what to do after finishing undergrad at Columbia and felt pressure to join Corporate America from family, friends, and mentors. The expectation to simply get a job that "paid the bills" rather than pursuing social impact work was overwhelming. On top of that, I was frustrated with how higher education seemed to boast about being the training ground for the next generation of change makers while also not providing the necessary support and resources for students to radically alter society’s status quo. All of this made me seriously reconsider my original "social impact" path. But MCC15 changed that; it renewed my faith in social change work and put me right back on track.

Initially, my perception of the UN was that it was “all talk with little action.” I was skeptical of attending MCC15 solely because of this assumption. But the energy and enthusiasm of fellow delegates at the conference on ensuring that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were fully realized by 2030 reassured me that I was, in fact, in the right place. During the conference, I got the chance to learn about grassroots student movements focused on non-paternalistic and community-based global development, which informed and reinvigorated my dream of using technology as a way to address basic human rights and needs. With a new sense of purpose, I went back to Columbia and convinced the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership to apply for the Millennium Fellowship; the National First-Generation, Low-Income Partnership was born in those transformational eight months during the fellowship.

GEN Day 2017 at Columbia University was hosted by John's organization   Columbia First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP)

GEN Day 2017 at Columbia University was hosted by John's organization Columbia First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP)

Created with other Millennium fellows, the National First-Generation, Low-Income Partnership (FLIP National) is a non-profit organization that focuses on providing equal opportunity for first-generation and/or low-income (FGLI) students in institutions of higher learning. FLIP National aims to establish campus-based chapters and promote collaboration among institutions in addressing issues that first-generation and low-income students face. FLIP National has earmarked seven “Target Areas,” namely Food Insecurity, Student Homelessness, Academic Development, Student Wellness & Community Building, Financial Support, Professional Development, and Awareness & Visibility. The goal is to raise awareness about the issues that hamper the academic success and well-being of FGLI students while pursuing sustainable solutions through the establishment of initiatives and policy change at the institutional, national, and international level.

FLIP National currently has four chapters: Columbia University, Emory University, Lehigh University, and the University of Pennsylvania. There are many more chapters in the works. Through its participation in the Millennium Fellowship, FLIP National has gained significant insight into professional non-profit management, which include, but are not limited to, SMART planning and key performance indicators (KPI). Sustainable growth at FLIP National has been possible because of these very insights. So far, the organization’s initiatives at the national and chapter levels have been extremely successful. The tangible successes of FLIP National include the fact that CU’s Book Lending library has over 2,500 textbooks in circulation, CU Meal Share has facilitated the exchange of over 1,000 meals swipes, and Microgrants has awarded over $5,000 in emergency grants to students in need.

I cherish MCN’s commitment to addressing tough issues that many people in international development face and/or have avoided. Issues such as "voluntourism,” donor demands versus commitment to impactful change, and communities not achieving self-sustainability after a significant period of time can only be solved through addressing them and taking subsequent action. My participation in MCN’s fellowship program has given me life-long friends that are also committed to creating real, demonstrable, and sustainable change through their own respective kind of leadership. MCC15’s hash tag #sidekicksUNite made me realize that it’s perfectly okay to play a "supporting role" rather than being 'the hero'; it’s actually better to be the former. Leaders are actually more effectual when they occupy more of a supporting role in the community and organization that they’re trying to aid. It's not about me, it's about them.

I want young leaders to know that NOW is the time to ask tough questions about the systems that exist around us, about access to food, healthcare, affordable education, equality, and etc. This is the time to check your own privilege and assess how much you've been given so that you can 'pay it forward' the same amount, or more. 'Privilege is not absolute, but relative.' Hence, you do not need to be the richest, most powerful, or possess the highest academic degree to spearhead the change you wish to see. Be proactive and seek to make a difference in any degree; that's the first step in becoming a true change maker."

*The "quotes" above have been edited for concision and clarity.

Amelia Colban

2015-2016 MCN Fellow | Undergraduate University: Columbia University in the City of New York | Place of Origin: Norway | UN SDG: #4 - to ensure quality education for all and promote life long learning.First Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP) at Columbia

Being a college student is stressful enough; no student should have to worry about finding a safe place to sleep as well. Amelia Colban wanted to bring the UN’s 4th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to fruition because 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.” The MCN Fellowship gave Amelia the platform to engage in dialogue about social issues and helped her cultivate the skills necessary to be a better leader. She is more encouraged and determined than ever to resolve inequality within institutions of higher education.

Prior to beginning her undergraduate studies at Columbia University in the City of New York, Amelia had been immersed in various different cultures. She grew up in Norway and was an avid traveler as a teenager. She's been to Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Spain.

Her wanderlust and travels made her realize “that ‘culture’ existed in more forms [than she was] aware of. [It existed] both internationally and in the nuances of individual identities within any geographic confine.” Such conceptualization of cultural definitions attracted Amelia to an American higher institution because she 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 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 an important part of her life in college through a friend. Amelia remembered overhearing someone she knew say, "students who have experienced homelessness" and she thought homelessness? here? at Columbia? an elite Ivy League school? It was the first time she ever heard “homelessness” in the Columbia culture, in their vernacular. Amelia quickly became engaged in FLIP once she realized homelessness amongst students at Columbia was more common than expected. The topic of homelessness was usually avoided, tucked away in the shadows, because of feelings of shame amongst those students affected.

FLIP at Columbia was conceived through the realization that marginalization; issues of homelessness; food insecurity; and feelings of misplacement in an elite, privileged environment were 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.

FLIP National's mission is to promote equal opportunity for first-generation and low-income students on all U.S. university campuses. By bringing difficult issues, such as student homelessness, to light and encouraging 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.

FLIP has received tremendous support from Columbia University and alumni since its inception. With this and the attention that FLIP's mission is getting via FLIP National, Amelia hopes that FLIP's reach only continues to grow. She'll continue to help FLIP include more students into "the conversation" at Columbia and help make the campus a more aware, open, and respectful space for all. 

Through each member, FLIP at Columbia is creating a revitalized community of empowered students to "advocate 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 impact of the organization in providing previously unmanaged, often inaccessible, resources. See below for examples of these resources.

Columbia University (CU) Meal Share:

New York is Expensive! CU Meal Share is a dining hall swipes-sharing platform and was one of FLIP's earliest initiatives. This food insecurity initiative 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 Swipes, a mobile application (app) 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 that all 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.


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-generation/low-income, which includes 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 recently launched to connect students in need of housing for a time period with others who have extra space. We are working with the school to implement institutional housing security protocols. Barnard College, 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.

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