Students shine at Clinton Global Initiative.

Yan Yan '17 at the 2016 Clinton Global Initiative University demonstrated her first prototype: a DIY anti-pollution filter mask made out of a plastic bottle.

By Sasha Nyary

After first-year students Sadikshya Bhattarai ’18 and Shikha Thakali ’18 learned about the devastating earthquake in their home country of Nepal last April, their thoughts turned to the children. 

“Children are very resilient,” said Bhattarai, an international relations major at Mount Holyoke College. “But you don’t really know what’s going on inside. We wanted to offer them art so they could express themselves.” 

Bhattarai and Thakali, who is a double major in architectural studies and economics, created “Kala: Arts as a Means for a Social Transformation.” The project was designed to introduce dance, painting, sculpture, and other arts to children ages 10 to 14. 

Recently, the two were presented with Commitment awards for their project at the ninth annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) meeting, held at the University of California, Berkeley. 

More than 1,200 students from 100 countries came together at the event to explore some of the world’s most pressing challenges during the weekend. They were joined by former president Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea Clinton, experts in a variety of fields, and celebrities.  

This is the third year Mount Holyoke students have been invited to attend. Eighteen students were invited, the College’s highest number of invitees so far, and 13 were able to attend. 

The strong showing by Mount Holyoke students speaks to the caliber of the College’s programming, said Entrepreneurship Coordinator Tamara Stenn, a visiting lecturer in economics who coached the students in the weeks leading up to the meeting. 

“We had a very large number of students for the size of our school,” she said. “This was huge.  Lots of schools bigger than us didn’t get selected at all.” 

Stenn helped the students prepare by going over pitches, designs, and planning, and by talking about networking and the specifics of presenting. Their hard work showed, she said. 

“They really stood out in how deeply thought-out their projects were,” she said. “Our students had viable, important projects that addressed specific needs they had personal experiences with.” 

That’s because Mount Holyoke students are engaged with global challenges, particularly those that affect their communities, said Kirk Lange, director of international experiential learning at the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives. 

“Students want to effect positive change. A Mount Holyoke education enables them to better analyze the complexity of challenges,” he said. “We help students to think about what roles they can take on to advance solutions and offer guidance in how to do so.” 

In addition to the awards won by Bhattarai and Thakali, four other students were also honored. 

Senior Danielle Harris, a critical social thought and French double major, was on a team that tied for first place in the ‘Code for Impact’ Codeathon. In partnership with the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, the Codeathon challenged student designers from across disciplines who didn’t know each other to build original prototypes to promote emotional wellness on campus. They had two days to do it. 

Harris’s team created Quokka, an app named after the “happiest animal in the world,” to help first-year students who moved to campus from a different city or country to acclimate to their new environment. 

The project was a challenge, said Harris, who earned an invitation to CGIU thanks to her project, “Cause Collab” in South Hadley. 

“Going from just meeting, to deciding on a concept, to developing a prototype and presenting it to incredible judges, including Chelsea Clinton, really brings students together,” she said. “We learned to be honest, collaborative leaders and team members all at the same time. I was pushed to think innovatively and create a product that investors would hypothetically be interested in and that also helps my peers.” 

Harris codesigned the app’s user interface, created the PowerPoint presentation, and copresented the project to the judges. At the weekend’s closing ceremony, Harris said, the team was presented as winners on stage with Chelsea Clinton in front of 2,000 people. 

Three additional students were invited to participate in poster presentations. Junior Woyneab Habte, an economics and international relations double major with a Nexus concentration in global business, created a poster about “On-Her-Own,” located in Ethiopia. Another junior, Yan Yan, who is majoring in chemistry with a Nexus in engineering, presented a poster on her “Greengineer” project in China. 

And Frances Perkins Scholar Jemimah Kamau, a senior, displayed a poster on her school library project in Kenya. Kamau is double-majoring in French and politics with a Nexus in journalism, media, and public discourse. She is also receiving a Five College Certificate in African studies. 

Calling the College environment “motivational,” Bhattarai said that she and Thakali are seeking funding to return to Nepal this summer to begin implementing their project. 

“At Mount Holyoke, we are always advocating change,” she said. “But also, we say, ‘Don’t just be the change, lead the change.’ That was a major inspiration for both of us. Everyone here is so empowering. It makes you think how can you help people.” 

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