Students to participate in Clinton conference

By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily News Editor
Published April 3, 2013

While many students are traveling to Atlanta, Ga. this weekend to cheer on the men’s basketball team in their first Final Four appearance in 20 years, two Wolverines will head farther west to represent the University in a slightly different setting.

LSA senior Meaghan O’Connor and LSA junior Elizabeth Rich will leave for Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Friday to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University, a weekend-long conference hosted by former President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea Clinton which brings hundreds of college students and world leaders together to try to solve global problems.

The pair will attend CGIU as members of She’s the First, a national non-profit organization that raises money to send underprivileged girls to school around the world. O’Connor founded the University’s chapter of the club in the fall after working for the organization last summer in New York.

At the conference, O’Connor and Rich — along with two other woman involved in She’s the First in different states — will meet with other college students who have made a "Commitment to Action" including climate change, public health and education, which is O'Connor's and Rich's focus.

“What you get out of the local stuff is really cool, and what we do here is really cool,” O’Connor said. “(But) that national perspective is so different than what we do here.”

“A big part of the summit this weekend is talking and connecting to people who have a common interest,” Rich added.

Last semester, the University’s club raised enough money to send two girls in Guatemala to high school. As evidenced by the club’s name, the girls will be the first in their families to attend. The hope is that by attaining a higher level of education a cycle of poverty can be interrupted.

Though one aspect of the organization is to send girls to school, another is to empower students on campuses across the nation. While students may not necessarily have money to donate, O'Connor believes the organization shows anyone can make an impact through hard work and creativity.

“I’m passionate not only about girls in developing countries, but girls here (as well), and convincing them that philanthropy and giving back is really important,” she said.

Though the club’s signature fundraising event is a tie-dye cupcake bake sale, members can take on other activities to raise money. Rich, for example, is running a half marathon where any sponsored money she receives will be donated to the organization. An upcoming gala will also raise funds for the group.

In addition, both women will continue to work on their individual Commitments in the coming year. O’Connor works with local girls to create beaded jewelry made out of recycled magazines, a practice with roots in Uganda. Rich is hosting a Read-A-Thon next school year for local girls. The raised money will be used to sponsor another girl abroad.

“I wanted to think outside the box and have a different purpose,” Rich said.

And while O’Connor and Rich already have a full plate, they said one of the best things about the CGIU weekend is the opportunity to meet new people and get a different perspective.

“Just knowing that projects have been started at this conference will hopefully inspire us to think more and want more,” O’Connor said.

O'Connor's sister recently started a chapter at Michigan State University and bases much of what MSU’s chapter does on events that have worked in Ann Arbor.