The end is just the beginning for MEPI student leaders who want to change world
2:10 p.m., Aug. 12, 2013--This year marked the 10th anniversary of the University of Delaware serving as host to the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Student Leaders Program.
UD is the host institution with the longest consecutive number of years supporting the program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State and designed to give students training in leadership to foster civic engagement in their home countries.
Twenty-four college students from across the Middle East and North Africa came together for a comprehensive six-week program that left them inspired and motivated to create positive change in their communities.
The program at UD has concluded, but the students’ work is far from over.
“It is a life-changing, self-empowering, breathtaking experience,” said one of the students, Atef.
Audrey Helfman, associate professor in UD’s School of Public Policy and Administration, said she defines leadership as the process of mobilizing others with passion and great ideas.
“There are so many things out there that need help. There are so many people that need information,” said Helfman to the students. “You [students] get to help a lot of people if you choose to. Do you choose to improve?”
A booming, collective and enthusiastic “yes” followed from all of the students.
Throughout the program, the MEPI students expressed that they had become more confident, independent and self-aware, learned to respect and embrace diversity, and most importantly learned how to become leaders that take action.
They found their spark and discovered a passion, the students said, and presented their own civic engagement project ideas to their peers, which will be later featured in a conference.
At the farewell banquet, James Magee, Judge Hugh M. Morris Professor of Political Science and International Relations, spoke on behalf of the faculty and expressed the potential that lies in each student to change the world.
“What endures for us, is you. And we count out you to change the world even if it is just a little bit,” said Magee.
Students traveled to Washington, D.C., New York City, Philadelphia, Colorado and Boston. Although those trips were exciting because the students were able to learn about American history, foreign relations and culture, some of the most important experiences took place in Delaware. Students went to different local organizations to learn about volunteering and getting actively involved in the community.
The three areas of focus were: special needs and social change, community outreach and youth engagement, and political advocacy and grassroots mobilization.
The experiences at the different organizations -- including Kingswood Community Center, UD Early Learning Center, William Hicks Anderson Community Center, the Mary Campbell Center and Delaware Greenways -- provided inspiration for their final projects.
They learned about the functions of the organizations and how to mobilize supporters within the community, daily operations and financial management. Not only were the students given the opportunity to interact with the children and residents, but also the administrators and representatives of the organizations.
“We learned that being a leader is about mobilizing, influencing and serving people for the good of the community,” said one of the students, Zeinab.
From these combined experiences students created their own civic engagement projects to be implemented in their communities once they return. Presentations had a five-minute time limit and a visual element challenging students to present their ideas in the most effective and influential manor.
Civic engagement projects ranged from integrating students to reduce stereotyping, to teaching English. Those with medical interests proposed improving hospital care and environment advocates opted for protection and recycling methods. The students incorporated media, such as creating magazines and utilizing YouTube to spread their messages about diversity and education.
Students living in countries experiencing widespread hardship and turmoil tackled sensitive issues, which many themselves had experienced or witnessed. These projects included a hotline to help people release feelings of stress or trauma, and strategies to create locations for refugees.
Students spoke with great passion and emotion while presenting their ideas.
“Our generation will lead this country, so we will try to get funding. We will be successful,” one student said in a voice mixed with determination and emotion.
“Each year MEPI brings an exceptional group of young people to our campus to share in a very unique cultural exchange program focused on leadership and civic engagement,” said Lesa Griffiths, professor of animal and food sciences and principal investigator for the program. “I am extremely grateful to the U.S. Department of State, the UD Institute for Global Studies, the faculty participants and the UD MEPIs for truly enriching our campus through this experience.”
To find out more and read the 2013 UD MEPI Student blog click here.
Article by Elizabeth Adams