SRU students headed to Clinton Global Initiative University gathering


clinton global initiative

President Bill Clinton with panelists at the opening plenary session of the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative University event.

March 25, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Six Slippery Rock University student researchers will take part in the 2016 Clinton Global Initiative University meeting, April 1-3, on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

The meeting will bring together more than 1,000 student leaders from across the country to present their "Commitments to Action" in one or more of CGIU's five focus areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.

Building on the successful model of the Clinton Global Initiative that brings together world leaders to take action on global challenges, President Bill Clinton launched the CGIU in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world.

The delegation of SRU students includes: Ashley Beal, an environmental geoscience major from West Mifflin, Andrew Moore, a junior sustainable management major from Eudora, Kansas, and Dale Chappell, a graduate education student from New Castle, who have partnered on poverty alleviation; Samantha Marfisi, a senior sustainable management major from Bethel Park and Kelly Ligon, an undeclared junior from Lower Burrell, who have partnered on environment and climate change; and Emily Reed, a senior non-profit management major from Erie, who submitted under peace and human rights.

Through the CGIU Network, over $900,000 in funding will be available to select students to help turn their ideas into action while also providing opportunities to attend plenary sessions, working sessions and other special events which will enable them to network with their peers, build skills, and identify potential partners.

The program will feature dozens of topic experts, university representatives and celebrities who will join the students to discuss effective solutions to some of world's most pressing challenges. During the last day of the meeting, attendees will take part in a Day of Action in the Berkeley community.

As a prerequisite of attending the CGIU meeting, students must develop their own "Commitments to Action," which are new, specific and measurable initiatives that address pressing challenges on their campus, in their local communities or around the world. Previous commitments have ranged from manufacturing wheelchairs for developing countries, establishing campus bike share programs, creating free vision clinics and developing e-learning applications for mobile phones.

Since 2008, students involved through CGIU have made more than 5,500 commitments, with nearly $2 million in funding being awarded to those actions through CGIU.

Beal, Moore and Chappell, have partnered on a plan utilizing aquaponics in an effort to alleviate poverty in Lukaya, Uganda. The plan would introduce an aquaponic gardening system at the Mustard Seed Academy, a school that is responsible for the education of more than 475 orphaned and abandoned children in the Lukaya area.

Aquaponic gardening is an environmentally friendly, sustainable agriculture system that cultivates fish and vegetables using natural bacterial cycles. It conserves water, extends the vegetable growing season, does not require fertilizer and allows vegetables to be grown during periods of short water availability.

Aquaponics combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.

In normal aquaculture, excretions from the animals being raised can accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the byproducts are broken down by nitrification bacteria into nitrates and nitrites, which are utilized by the plants as nutrients and the water is then re-circulated back to the aquaculture system.

According to Beal, the ultimate goal is for SRU students to travel to Lukaya and collaborate with students at Uganda Martyrs University in order to build a working system at the MSA and to train jointly on how to correctly monitor an aquaponics system.

"Should aquaponics provide positive results for the agricultural and nutritional needs of farmers and Ugandans, we envision our partnered efforts fostering new entrepreneurial ecosystems and markets throughout Uganda, where sustainable business opportunities could be micro financed," said Beal.

Marfisi's and Ligon's environment and climate change entry, "SRU Green Leaves," was a project that began last summer at SRU's Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator. It addresses the need for an involvement program for faculty and staff to learn about sustainability on campus, see the impact their individual actions have and develop good habits for sustainability moving forward.

"SRU has wonderful climate action plans and measurements at the end of each academic year to monitor the University's progress," said Marfisi. "However, those measurements are backwards-looking. We saw the need for a program that actually facilitates change in behaviors 'in the moment.'

"The action we developed is a version of a program used at Harvard, but adapted to fit SRU, which encourages faculty and staff within each department to consider their buildings operations, their buying practices and their overall commitment to daily sustainable actions. When they demonstrate a new sustainable practice added to their department, they can check that item off a list within the program and be awarded points."

Marfisi and Ligon are examining ways to communicate and celebrate departmental achievements in order to motivate participants, create friendly competition between departments and how to get students involved in the future. The pair is hopeful of rolling out a pilot test of the program through the School of Business later this semester.

Reed's solo effort, submitted under CGIU'S peace and human rights category, is entitled "Autism Neighbors."

The initiative would train businesses in Western Pennsylvania on the best approaches for making public spaces more welcoming and comforting for individuals on the autism spectrum.

"This could mean, using a restaurant as an example, locating an area of the restaurant that was not a sensory-overload - quiet, without a lot of traffic, dimmer lighting - and immediately providing a glass of water upon an accelerated seating schedule," said Reed.

As part of the endeavor, Reed is investing the possibility of producing a business card-like identifier for autistic patrons of public businesses that can be shown to staff upon arrival, thereby initiating the proposed protocol and making the experience positive for all parties involved.

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