Emily Brincka, public health ’15, shares her experiences as a participant in the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative University.
Each week, American University public health majors and minors receive emails about public health events in and around the city of Washington, D.C. As a freshman, I became accustomed to quickly skimming through the information about applying for master’s in public health programs, and the email would eventually get lost in my inbox, never to be seen again. However, one email that invited students to apply to the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) conference held at the George Washington University at the end of March 2012 caught my eye. One Google search later and after perusing CGI U’s website, I decided to apply, figuring my chances of being accepted were slim, with 3,000 applicants for a little over 1,000 spots.
The Clinton Global Initiative University meeting was created by former President Bill Clinton and his foundation to inspire students from the United States and around the world to make commitments take action in the areas of public health, poverty alleviation, education, the environment, and peace and human rights. A commitment is a plan to affect change in a student’s immediate community, on the national level, or on an international scale.
My commitment, GloBallHealth, was inspired by an alternative break trip to Liberia over winter break in 2011 that focused on empowering women through education. After seeing how the high illiteracy rate in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, disallows children and adults from connecting with messages like “A’s, not AIDS” on billboards in the nation’s capital, I knew my commitment should focus on public health literacy.
Three months after I applied to the conference, I settled on working to create a soccer ball with an international partner that has a surface that changes to display basic public health messages, like “wash your hands” in a visual manner at intervals of play. By tapping into an object that many Liberian children use throughout the day, GloBallHealth has the potential to drastically improve public health at the individual, interpersonal, and community level.
In order to help conference attendees turn their commitments from ideas into actions, President Clinton and well-known entrepreneurs spoke on topics such as public service, the importance of failure to foster innovation, and the future in an unstable world. Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, singer and founder of the New Look Foundation Usher, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Buzzcar founder Robin Chase, Chelsea Clinton, and many other prominent individuals, made panel appearances throughout the conference sharing their wisdom with conference attendees. On the evening of the final day of the conference, Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show, spoke with President Clinton in front of CGI U attendees, best synthesizing the potential that each conference attendee’s commitment has. “I have never been in a room where I felt like I’d like to work for each and every one of you,” he said.
On Sunday, as an extension of CGI U, I had the privilege to participate in a service project, partnering with Rebuilding Together in the Lincoln Heights area in Washington, D.C. to makeover homes when homeowners were unable to afford to do so on their own. Working on a team of six, I knocked down an old fence, pulled weeds, and helped clean up the exterior of a home in need so that later in the day, a remodeling crew could come in and revitalize it. I ended the day in a small group conversing with President Clinton about his bracket for Final Four in March Madness.
After two days of interacting with individuals from North Carolina, Texas, and Florida, and as far away as Beijing, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, and Ghana, I could not help but look forward to next year’s Clinton Global Initiative University conference where I could meet a whole new group of inspiring individuals who want to work to change the world, and to have the opportunity to refine and implement my own commitment, moving one step closer to improving global health.