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Engineers take the stage, glean inspiration at CGI U

Engineers take the stage, glean inspiration at CGI U

Above: Ngoni Mugwisi presenting in front of fellow MasterCard Foundation Scholars at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference held at the University of California Berkeley. Photographer: Adam Schultz/CGI U

Seventeen students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering were selected to attend the 2016 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) on April 1-3 at the University of California Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area.

These Fulton Schools students make up the largest contingent from any college at Arizona State University, which had 32 students invited to attend in total. They joined more than 1,200 innovative student leaders from around the world, dozens of topic experts, Bill and Chelsea Clinton and other celebrities, such as Conan O’Brien, at the ninth annual CGI U event.

President Bill Clinton launched CGI U in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world.

Students are invited to attend through a competitive selection process. Students submit compelling solutions, called Commitments to Action, to today’s most pressing issues in one of five focus areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.

At the event students develop action plans for their endeavors, network with entrepreneurs and industry leaders, and are mentored by others involved in humanitarian and social transformation efforts.

Read about the commitments, takeaways and highlights from a couple of Fulton Schools engineers:

Ngoni Mugwisi
Junior, electrical engineering

Ngoni Mugwisi has been selected to attend the CGI U conference for three consecutive years. He reapplied this year because he saw an opportunity to further the conversation about sustainable development in the world through social impact.

Ngoni Mugwisi attended the Clinton Global Initiative University conference for his third consecutive year. Photo courtesy of Ngoni Mugwisi

Ngoni Mugwisi attended the Clinton Global Initiative University conference for his third consecutive year. Photo courtesy of Ngoni Mugwisi

“[CGI U] is one of the most rewarding experiences I have been fortunate to participate in. I am compelled by the richness and diversity of speakers, the inspiring caliber of fellow commitment makers and the vast networking opportunities it presents,” says Mugwisi.

This year, he and his teammate Allistar Machacek made a commitment to action called Solar Water Solutions. Solar Water Solutions aims to provide access to water resources for agriculture in developing communities, such as rural areas in Mugwisi’s native country, Zimbabwe, using solar powered water pump technology. 

Mugwisi was invited to speak on stage about his venture at a skills building session. His commitment was selected as “an exemplary approach to addressing critical challenges” and with hopes it would “inspire others in the room to take action,” as stated by the invitation from CGI U.

Mugwisi was also one of the featured CGI U Alumni Voices who spoke to a group of scholars at the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Workshop. As an international freshman Mugwisi received a full-ride scholarship from the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program — a $500 million, 10-year initiative to educate and prepare young people, particularly from Africa, to lead social change and make a positive impact on their communities.

As a freshman Mugwisi started the Stair Gardens Project (SGP), a sustainable food source venture that uses a tiered gardening system to empower small-scale rural farmers to increase their food production, which won against 191 other ventures competing at the 2015 Social Venture Challenge, held in conjunction with the 2015 CGI U conference at the University of Miami.

Not competing for funding this year, Mugwisi was able to focus on taking in the messages from featured speakers, ranging from CEOs to astronauts. “[The range of speakers] was evidence to me that changemakers are as diverse as the more than 5,000 people that attended the opening plenary session,” he says.

In addition to helpful takeaways on team building and strengthening organizational capacity, Mugwisi came away inspired.

He says a statement made by Pinterest CEO and co-founder Ben Silbermann resonated with him. “He said when we think or worry about all the things that can go wrong, we should also think about the things that can go right, and that should be our motivator,” says Mugwisi.

“Listening to him and other leaders…inspired me to do more,” he said.

Sivakumar Palaniswamy
Master’s student, biomedical engineering

At CGI U in 2015, Sivakumar Palaniswamy made a commitment to install 50 jaundice phototherapy devices in the small northeastern state of Assam, India. About a year later, in 2016, he stood before 200 others devoted to making change to give a speech about fundraising for CGI U commitments.

Dubbed ‘Jago Assam,’ meaning ‘Represent Assam,’ Palaniswamy’s commitment raised $600,000 through his company, Neolight, to deliver much-needed jaundice treatment to Assam, a state in India. With only 21 percent of the state having access to electricity, Assam accounts for 60 percent of the jaundice casualties in all of India.

“With a little luck and a lot of hard work, I was able to form a team to raise $600,000 and bring our commitment that much closer to reality,” said Palaniswamy.

Jaundice is a condition that affects six out of 10 infants worldwide and is caused by the build up of excess bilirubin, due to the inability of an infant’s liver to filter out old blood cells. Bilirubin is toxic to the central nervous system and can cause brain damage and even death. While easily treatable, the condition claims 219 infant lives in Africa daily and leaves more than 1,000 babies either dead or brain damaged each day in Southeast Asia.

Palaniswamy co-founded Neolight in the summer of 2014 after witnessing the shortcomings of today’s jaundice treatment firsthand.

Sivakumar Palaniswamy meets with disability rights activist Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School, at the Clinton Global Initiative University. Photo courtesy of Sivakumar Palaniswamy

Sivakumar Palaniswamy meets with disability rights activist Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School, at the Clinton Global Initiative University. Photo courtesy of Sivakumar Palaniswamy

“Neolight follows a Tom’s Shoe model — for every device we sell in the U.S., we are donating one to the developing world,” says Palaniswamy. “I applied to CGI U to make connections with people of different demographics and ethnicities to understand the depth of similar problems in different parts of the world.”

Palaniswamy was one of ten chosen as the best examples from more than 1,000 other commitment makers to share his story. He also spent time making connections with people from India and Africa to build a network to help deploy jaundice treatment in other developing areas of the world.

He also had the opportunity to meet with Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School. She has been named a White House Champion of Change, a Forbes 30 under 30 leader and a BBC Women of Africa Hero. 

“She was apparently in the room where I gave my talk, and I before I could even introduce myself, she recognized my work and that is something that was completely surprising and astonishing,” said Palaniswamy.

Palaniswamy also noted that Girma was his favorite speaker at the event.

He was also asked to record a three minute speech to be shown at the next CGI U event as an exemplary commitment.

“CGI U was a wonderful experience,” said Palaniswamy. “A loud cheer at the end of my speech from all the commitment makers is one thing I will never forget.”

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Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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