GW Students Commit to Tackling Global Health Challenges

Each year, the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) hosts a three-day meeting to bring together students, university representatives, topic experts and celebrities to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges. With innovation and public service woven into the George Washington University (GW) culture and curriculum, it’s not surprising that GW continues to have a strong student presence at the annual meetings. GW students didn’t have to go far in 2012 when the university hosted the CGI U meeting on its Foggy Bottom campus. This year, 36 GW students, ten from Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH), were selected to attend the conference in Miami on March 6-8, 2015.

The undergraduate and graduate students from Milken Institute SPH who were selected to participate in the 2015 meeting had to develop a “Commitment to Action,” a new and measurable initiative that addresses social challenges locally or globally. Some students have joined together to work as a team, while others are working individually. Their commitments cover a range of public health challenges from access to healthcare to poverty alleviation to health education. With the help of GWupstart Social Innovation Lab, GW’s hub for social entrepreneurship training, mentoring and funding, the students have been preparing to discuss their venture at the CGI U meeting. These discussions and networking opportunities help students secure financial support and develop potential partnerships.

GWupstart recently hosted a meetup for all of the DC area’s 2015 university-student commitment makers. There, attendees had the opportunity to participate in a networking and mentorship session with past and present CGI U participants. Attendees also heard from their fellow 2015 commitment makers, and learned skills to prepare them for CGI U.

“When networking, students share the problem they are working to solve first, and hook their listener by helping them understand the issue. Only after that, students share their solution,” says Melanie Fedri, coordinator of the GWupstart Social Innovation Lab. This gives the listener context and a compelling reason to care, she says.

“Students also need to hear what people are saying, think actively and be a connector,” Fedri adds. This collaborative connector mentality is a key part of CGI U, she explains, “There is a lot of excitement at the conference about students’ commitments to action, and how they can collaborate.”

In addition to hands-on training, GWupstart provides financial support for students. “This is the first year we’re doing the Commitment Maker Challenge,” Fedri says. The Challenge allows GW students to compete for funding to support their CGI U Commitments to Action. “We were able to give approximately $13,000 to commitment makers to help them with seed money for their projects and travel to the conference.”  

Read about some of the commitments Milken Institute SPH students have made for this year’s CGI U:

Vivian Berni

Commitment Name: Stay Safe Pharma

Vivian Berni, Milken Institute SPH graduate student

There is no guarantee that medicinal products bought online are effective, authentic or even safe.  Low and middle income patients shopping online are especially susceptible to purchasing their prescription drugs from generic, questionable sources in their hope of saving money while meeting their health needs.  To take on this large-scale challenge, Stay Safe Pharma will focus on assisting low and middle income patients, including college students, residing in South Florida to become aware of the danger of counterfeit drugs and the risks associated with online medicine purchases.

Commitment Name: Grassroots Jam

Erin Boudreau

Erin Boudreau, ​undergraduate student in the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences with a focus in public health





Michael Bourie, undergraduate student pursuing a major in environmental studies and a focus in global health



The Grassroot Project commits to expanding the scope of their HIV education programs. to include impacting behavior change in their participants most crucial and influential years. The Grassroot Project will partner with youth, who have previously graduated The Grassroot Project program and together, they will host the Grassroots Jam, a one-day sports-based educational event the year before the participants enter high school, a time when they are exposed to risky behavior and choices. This commitment to action measures participants retained knowledge and evaluates their behavior change in regard to safer sex while additionally providing participants with a mentorship network.

Commitment Name: Peer Health Education Network

Kirsten Dimovitz, undergraduate student pursuing a major in international affairs and a minor in public health





Brooke Staveland, undergraduate student pursuing a major in math and a minor in mind/brain studies





Ryan Toney, undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in biological sciences with a focus in public health





Amber Zeise, undergraduate student pursuing a major in psychology






In 2015, Kirsten Dimovitz, Brooke Staveland, Ryan Toney and Amber Zeise will partner with the Sri Ram Ashram in northern India to establish a peer health mentoring program called the Peer Health Education Network. This initiative will build on the partner school’s (Shri Ram Vidya Mandir) network and structure to empower students to teach and learn from each other. The curriculum will be created and implemented with the help of local teenagers, and will focus on identified community health issues that students and their families face. The commitment aims to create a sustainable, innovative approach to learning about health and safety.

Commitment Name: Pets for Colonials

Sofia Durrani, Milken Institute SPH graduate student pursuing Master of Public Health

Pets for Colonials (PoC) is a project that would focus on decreasing the negative stigma surrounding visiting college counseling services, specifically at the George Washington University. This would be done by creating a more welcoming atmosphere in the Counseling Center waiting area by allowing interactions between students and therapy animals. PoC hopes to attract more students to use the counseling services by having animals there to relieve stress and anxiety. Students can also visit the counseling center under the guise of visiting an animal if they don't feel comfortable disclosing that they are seeking a counseling visit.

Commitment Name: Clothes for Everyone’s Success

Melinda Hasbrouck, Milken Institute SPH graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Health in health policy

Clothes for Everyone’s Success will be a clothing drive that recognizes the need for work clothes in industries that require attire other than a suit (e.g., chef/cook apparel, health workers, janitorial services, construction).  Organizations throughout the Washington Metropolitan area that provide work clothes have an inventory that is more suited for the office setting (e.g., Suited for Change, Martha’s Table, Bread for the City, A Wider Circle).  Clothes for Everyone’s Success will include office clothing, but will target other attire for other settings (i.e., scrubs, khakis, black clothing, chef pants and coats, jeans).

Commitment Name: No Woman Left Behind

Ibrahima Kane, Milken Institute SPH graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Health in global health

No Woman Left Behind (NWLB) will teach traditional midwives in Senegal, where more than 40% of women give birth at home, to use misoprostol to reduce maternal mortality caused by postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). Misoprostol is an essential medicine according to the World Health Organization and is effective, cheap, thermo-stable, easy to use (orally or rectally), and needs no prescription to be used.  By teaching traditional midwives about this medicine, NWLB will pilot an education and medicine distribution process that will reduce the maternal mortality rate in Senegal (392 for 10,000 births), since postpartum hemorrhage constitutes the first cause of maternal mortality (27%).