Clinton Global Initiative University 2014

I get it—our generation has its flaws. I just read yet another article about how we’re up to our old tricks again, what with our incessant texting and tweeting. Yes, we were the generation with an undying love for boy bands and grew up to thumb away on our smartphones, but we’re also trying to change the world. Where does one find a young person making a difference, you ask? You might try the Clinton Global Initiative University. CGI U is completely recasting the distressing portrait of today’s youth from estranged and neurotic to upbeat and intelligent. We’re a stubborn bunch. Call us what you want – Generation Me, Millennials, Generation Y – it doesn’t change that fact that we’re rebelling against cultural ennui by going out and getting things done.

SMU students at CGI U 2014

SMU students at CGI U 2014

Last weekend, I had the opportunity of attending the seventh annual CGI University meeting with over 1,000 students from all 50 states and over 80 countries. CGI U, an initiative of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, is devoted to inspiring the next generation of leaders to tackle global challenges. The goal of CGI U is not just to discuss issues at hand, but rather to make specific Commitments to Action to address pressing challenges faced all over the world. CGI U unites students and challenges them to take on these global problems through innovation and collaboration. “We’re the generation that has volunteered most in history — even more than my parent’s generation,” said Chelsea Clinton in the opening session.

I was one of six SMU students that travelled to Arizona State University to take part in CGI U 2014. My commitment, which falls under the Peace and Human Rights focus area, involves The Nari Project. Nari kits, which are transitional crisis kits, provide battered women with basic necessities as they transition from critical situations to a secure environment. The kits, which have been implemented in Dallas, Texas and Comilla, Bangladesh, include items such as food, clothing, gift cards, a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other items. This year, I have committed to complete the last stage of research for The Nari Project by engaging in scholarly research to determine the psychological and physiological efficacy of the kits. Using this research, I will conduct seminars to spread awareness about domestic violence, and scale up the Nari initiative.

With over 1000 of the brightest minds in attendance, the weekend was an unparalleled amalgamation of innovation and stimulation. The conference, which was held at Arizona State University in Tempe, examined issues such as environment and climate change, education, peace and human rights, public health and poverty alleviation. The meeting featured a cast list brimming with prominent speakers by the likes of Gabrielle Giffords, Jimmy Wales, Reeta Roy and Jimmy Kimmel.

While I attended last year’s CGI U Meeting in St. Louis, I was admittedly overwhelmed by the sheer evolution of the student commitments. This year surpassed my expectations yet again, as I met a host of likeminded and unwavering students that are taking concrete steps to confront global issues. Whether it was another student appreciating the work I put into my project, or someone that was interested in working with Nari, I came away from the weekend with numerous valuable contacts.

“First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight with you. Then you win,” said Barefoot College’s Bunker Roy at one of the sessions, quoting Gandhi. CGI U has provided me with a sense of self-actualization that has helped me better realize my place in the world.

Kids these days.

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Clinton Global Initiative University

Thomas Schmedding, SMU ’16, is working with Adam Goff, SMU ’16, on a micro-finance loan project, PropeLend Economic Empowerment Ventures, which will harness public support for economic development by empowering impoverished residents of developing nations to seek loans for entrepreneurship.  

This past weekend I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona for a convention with some of the brightest minds of our generation. Many of the students who attended are on the cutting edge of social innovation and policy making. This culmination of over 1000 students and their ideas was brought together by the Clinton Foundation, an organization spearheaded by Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton.

Each student or small group of students addressed specific social problems by creating a commitment to action. Our commitment to action regarded microfinance loans in developing countries. Once paid back, these loans will be bundled into grants for the Dallas community.

The event featured many guest speakers including The Clintons, Jimmy Kimmel, John McCain, Jimmy Wales (Founder of Wikipedia), and several prominent activists. In between the speakers were meetings with CEOs and innovators at the top of their fields. Each student had the opportunity to gain insight and perfect their plan for start-up and initiation.

Overall, I would say the experience my research partner and I gained at CGIU will prove very influential in our coming business planning.

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How I Became I Human Rights Major

Senior Emily Mankowski is researching the historical racism of the Aboriginal people in Australia to shed light on present-day discrimination as well as efforts to remediate discrimination. (Major: HRTS; PLSC; Mentor: Dr. Rick Halperin). Follow her blogs at 

This is why I can confidently say that I am proud to be an SMU student, because I get to interact with my hero on a daily basis. Thank you Dr. Halperin for reminding me how choosing to be a Human RIghts major was the best decision I have ever made.

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Exploring International Theatre

Junior theatre major Eva Meiling Pollitt (Mei Mei) will be attending international theatre festivals in Avignon, France and Edinburgh, Scotland and collecting information about the artistic work being done abroad. You can follow the rest of her blog at 

a visual description

In (counting) four days, I am boarding a plane to Europe to embark on a 5.5 week long journey during which I will experience a lot of international theatre. I will provide information from my experience through this blog. After I return, I will organize this information and create an installation project to be presented at my University that showcases any discoveries I have made regarding the development of contemporary theatre.


Because I want to be a theatre artist when I grow up. And I happen to go to school with a lot of other people who do too. And I thought it would be a good idea to go to Europe where international theatre festivals are heaping together all sorts of professional theatre artists with all sorts of budgets and all sorts of ideas and see how their work and way of working may influence me and my peers’ budding artistic personalities.

In other words:

To see how the world’s art can be brought into my art.

First, I must research the world. My journey (this time) begins with a 3-week stint in Avignon, France at the Festival D’Avignon, one of the most significant international theatre festivals in the world. I will be taking theatre and French courses at the Université D’Avignon by day and scouring the 40+ performances being presented at the festival by night and weekend.  I will also be interviewing the artists and audiences involved with each performance, as circumstances allow.

Then I shall lollygag for a week or so in the likes of Paris and Brussels, awaiting the beginning of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which is the most significant international theatre festival in the world. I shall spend 4 days in Edinburgh, Scotland, absorb as much of the most original theatre as possible, interview the artists, etc. Who knows, I may even gain some contemporary theatre experience while in Paris and Brussels. I will certainly be seeking art where ever I go.

Wish me luck. Track my progress at Tell me if you have any questions.




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Investigations Into The Contemporary Dance Company

Senior Morgan Beckwith will intern with Mystic Ballet professional dance company to gain inside knowledge about the administrative and artistic sides of a successful contemporary dance company. Follow her blog

Spring of 2013 Southern Methodist University’s Engaged Learning program awarded me with a $2,000 grant in order to effectively enhance my SMU education by exploring  outside the boundaries of the classroom.

For the duration of my project, (“Investigations into the Contemporary Dance Company”), I will be interning with The Mystic Ballet in order to gain inside knowledge about the administrative and artistic sides of a successful non-profit contemporary dance company.

With the help of my mentor, Shelly Berg, I plan to conduct a series of interviews along with real-time observations and research on the creation of artistic product and the way in which Mystic Ballet engages with the community.

As an SMU dancer I have been privileged enough to be involved with numerous rehearsals and performances within the dance community. Everything from performing with the Graham company on the Winspear stage to reconstructing a Joffery ballet with Mia Wilkins has prepared me to take the next step in my dance career. However, I found myself wondering about the actuality of working for a dance organization in today’s society: salary, contractual rights, touring, and community engagement to name a few. While there is a vast variety of management and business plan styles within the dance community I thought I would investigate one in hopes of revealing some of the realities of the way a non-profit dance company operates.

I hope to bring back this information to the SMU dance department and whoever else is interested in the larger dance administration and performance world.

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CGI America

An update from Rahfin Faruk, a rising junior studying economics, political science and mathematics who runs Green Riba, a storefront dedicated to zero-interest loans for Dallas entrepreneurs.

According to Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, American civic engagement is at an all time low. Fewer people are volunteering. Even fewer are joining clubs and associations. And, yes, bowling alleys — supported by bowling clubs — across the country are closing.

The end impact, according to Putnam, is falling social capital and trust. The glue that makes a democracy work is getting less sticky.

This week, I had the opportunity to attend CGI America. Representatives from the private, public, non-profit and academic sectors — four sectors often divided — came together to discuss and propose solutions on some of America’s greatest domestic problems: rising inequality, growing urban-rural divide, declining manufacturing, falling test scores and decaying infrastructure.

At first glance, America’s future seems bleak. But, after attending meetings, America’s future is still bright.

In a session, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew said, “I believe in the resiliency of the American spirit.”

In a new century, Americans will have to tackle problems that there are no frameworks for — climate change, demographic shifts brought on by aging and migration and globalization.

I am here to represent my microfinance organization, Green Riba, which seeks to deliver zero-interest loans to West Dallas, a socioeconomically disadvantaged part of Dallas.

Microfinance organizations usually fall into a high interest trap. Because loan sizes are small and the risk of default is higher but operational costs stay about the same, organizations charge interest rates higher than those at a traditional bank.

Slowly, however, the framework on high interest loans is changing. Recently, Kiva, an international microfinance organization that has delivered more than a million loans, launched Kiva Zip.

The approach is a radical one. Realizing that even traditional microfinance loans left room for financial exclusion, Kiva Zip is dedicated to offering zero-interest loans to the most vulnerable: refugees, the unemployed and the undocumented.

No one framework has the solution. There are no one size fits all solutions.

It will take new ideas and paradigms to solve our most complex problems. CGI America has given me hope that this type of radical change is possible.

Chelsea Clinton with students at CGI America

Chelsea Clinton with students at CGI America

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London Bound

Junior Lauryn Bodden has begun a food as culture project locally and, while studying in London, will expand her knowledge of the glocal food movement, comparing Londoners’ attitudes about food and eating habits with Americans. Follow Lauryn’s food blog


As my junior year at Southern Methodist University (SMU) comes to a close, I look onto this final school year with an overwhelming amount of emotions, questions, and  wonder. This past semester alone has been a whirlwind of new experiences and change that when all thrown together have brought me to exactly where I want to be. I know the person I wish to encompass, my daily passions in life, what brings me excitement in my work, where I want to be in the future, and the people I want surrounding me through it all.

Finals are done and grades are posted, but the year is nowhere near a close. Come May 22, everything will change. By 7:30 pm Wednesday night, I will be high above the United States, soaring across the vast Atlantic ocean, heading toward my final destination: the booming city of London. One of fifteen students participating in the SMU Communications Internship program, I couldn’t imagine a better way to further my education, gain unique professional experience, discover the cultures of the world, and uncover more of who I am as an individual. London is a leading global city, with strengths all over the board. It has the fifth-largest metropolitan area GDP in the world and is one of the most-visited cities in the world. With more than 300 languages spoken, there’s a diverse range of people and cultures. Without a doubt, I know just simply roaming the city streets I will push myself pass limits and gain knowledge in a way that I could never replicate.

In addition to this amazing opportunity, I will conduct undergraduate research through the SMU Engaged Learning program, studying the food culture of America versus that of London. Food is necessary not only for sustainable purposes, but for identity, culture, tradition, and sociological being. It is a huge part of every individual’s day, providing nourishment, entertainment, and comfort, but its importance is often overlooked. Through participant observation, interviews, and other qualitative research analysis, I want to investigate how people on a global landscape eat, cook, and relate to food in a way that is similar and different than we as Americans do.

Self-diagnosed with what I like to call “Food A.D.D.,” I feel this blog alone is enough evidence of the extreme foodie living inside me. Reflecting on restaurant explorations as well as home cooking ventures, I use my blog to show the association I make to the surrounding world through my love my food. It is a source that will further my research findings and help me share every amazing, scary, and mind-blowing second of these next 6 weeks in London. Come along on this journey with me by following my blog and be a part of this next big chapter of my life.

Ready or not, London here I come!!

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One Week Out

Junior Thomas Gelo will bring to life the view of a foreign culture from the eyes of a study abroad student through the medium of an Avant Garde film. Read the rest of his journey on his blog site

I’m just six days away from my flight to London.

At this point I’m still not sure what this film is going to evolve into.  Ideas I hope to explore are:

-British perceptions of Americans.

-The human constructs of borders versus free will and a inherent ownership of the Earth.

-Cultural discomfort and dissonance.

I’m excited to know that my good friend Rachel Wilson will be joining me filming her own documentary on the British music scene.  I hope we can bounce ideas off of each other.  In the next week, it’s time to crack down and make sure I have all of my equipment in order.  Check out the details.

I’ve decided to shoot this film in 720p HD, at a frame rate of 60fps.  For a while I was debating this format versus full 1080p HD at 30fps, but settled on 720p for it’s higher frame rate.  This’ll pull in a crisper image especially when the camera’s on the move, and will give me more flexibility with time shifting in the editing room.  Since the majority of my shooting will be in natural light, I don’t expect exposure to be an issue.

My Gear:

I plan to shoot on the Canon Rebel T2i- a great travel camera as it is compact, supports full HD, and has several features of a higher end camera.

Your typical stock Canon Lens, nothing special here.

Your typical stock Canon 18-55mm Lens, nothing special here.

A Canon 75-300mm Telephoto Lens provides nice distance or a boost in perspective for landscape shots.

A Canon 75-300mm Telephoto Lens provides nice distance or a boost in perspective for landscape shots.

I picked up this Wide Angle lens converter on Amazon.  This Lens adapter will be perfect for capturing vast European architecture.

I picked up this Wide Angle lens converter on Amazon. This Lens adapter will be perfect for capturing vast European architecture.

Before Wide Angle Adapter

Before Wide Angle Adapter

After Wide Angle Adaptor

After Wide Angle Adaptor

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White Girl

For her Engaged Learning project junior Lauren Mishoe will create a mixed-media solo performance as a result of her time abroad studying female empowerment of the Maori people in New Zealand. Read all of Lauren’s blog posts on her blog site

An 11 hour plane ride almost erases the idea of distance. Initially only the multitude of unfamiliar trees made me feel as though I were carrying a small terrier in a wicker basket and wearing ruby slippers: I weren’t in Texas anymore. The first two weeks of living in Auckland were full of adjusting, adapting, and maneuvering myself to appear as invisible and unassuming as possible. I didn’t realize how uncomfortable testing the waters of a new culture could be. Luckily for me, Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and it was easy to blend in within the surprisingly international crowd. Eventually, as I familiarized myself with the layout of the city and formed friendships with those living with me, I felt I had a right to own the space I occupied.

Like your last hairpin inhaled into the vacuum, the feeling of validity vanished when I walked into my first class at University: Intro to Pacific Studies. I immediately realized, for one of the handful of times in my life, I was a racial minority in this space of 170+ people. I also realized  I had never spoken to anyone of Pacific Island ethnicity before. At this point, I didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable, I simply noticed it. I gravitated toward a group of American students I knew from orientation week. The warm, smiling professor introduced himself and proceeded to discuss typical “welcome to class this is what we’re covering” type topics. As I was listening and taking down some notes, the prof. mumbled a joke in Samoan (I think) to which the class roared with laughter. I was startled by the energetic response and looked around to see everyone around me, save the 4 or 5 American students beside me, was rolling with laughter. I awkwardly laughed along. I laughed for the fact I had no clue what just happened, for the fact that none of my friends did either – but mostly I laughed because at that moment I felt so different and small that I wanted to jump on a bald eagle and fly back to Texas right then and there.

An overreaction? Probably. The regret for leaving my comfort zone was fleeting. It was only for the duration of the laughter  that I continued to dwell on my insecurity. I’ve since made many friends from all over the world, a few of them I met in Intro to Pacific Studies. But this whole event got me asking some hard questions of myself.

Why did I notice, the moment I walked in, that I was ethnically different from everyone else? What does it mean that this made me feel uncomfortable? What’s up with this human craving to fit in? Did everyone else notice I was different too?

Does all of this make me racist? … What does it mean to be “racist”?

The woman on the left side of the coat of arms...
The woman on the left side of the coat of arms of New Zealand is Zealandia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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