St. Thomas Students Selected to Attend Clinton Global Initiative University

A team of three University of St. Thomas School of Engineering students has been selected to attend a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University March 6-8 at the University of Miami.

Seniors John Umarov and Julio Vasquez and sophomore Chad Helland were chosen to attend the gathering of up-and-coming social entrepreneurs based on a project they are developing with the St. Thomas chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World. Along with their fellow club members, they are working to create an affordable solar energy system targeting households in the developing world that would otherwise not have electricity.

According to its application, the team's commitment to action is, "To design a low cost 1kW renewable energy system at the residential level. For our design, we want to innovate the process of obtaining solar radiation through a parobolic dish and harvest the sun's energy into a thermopile system. From there, we would convert the concentrated heat into a usable form of power to implement into a micro grid."

Umarov believes college students are uniquely qualified to do the type of creative problem-solving required of social entrepreneurs. "Our generation has a lot of power to help solve these problems because we are creative and always pushing boundaries," he said. "We want to really explore our boundaries and find a solution for people who don’t have the tools to solve the problems themselves."

The idea of improving the lives of those in need was appealing to Helland. "Lack of access to electricity is a problem we can do something about," he said. "The positive gains can be pretty big and start to snowball. If you bring power to people who never had it, they can start to have technology, which will make their lives easier. They can become more educated, which allows for them to grow in many other ways."

Each year, former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton host a meeting where students, university representatives, topic experts and celebrities come together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges. This year's meeting will bring together more than 1,100 students with ideas that could make a difference in CGI U's five focus areas of education; environment and climate change; peace and human rights; poverty alleviation; and public health.

Umarov learned about the opportunity to attend CGI U through a Schulze School of Entrepreneurship course taught by Laura Dunham, who was excited to have an engineering student in the mix. "We like to provide opportunities for students from across the university to take some of these courses," Dunham said.

"We would love for the team to come away from this experience with the skills, excitement and the inspiration to carry through their project, but also to start spreading the word to serve as other students at St. Thomas," said Dunham, regarding the team's expectations for their upcoming attendance at CGI U.

St. Thomas is a member of the CGI University Network, thanks to a commitment made by President Julie Sullivan in fall 2014. As part of that commitment, the team will receive $10,000 for expenses and seed money to continue to develop their idea.

According to Dunham, opportunities such as CGI U help put the university on the leading edge of this field.

"St. Thomas is really well-positioned to be a leader in social entrepreneurship," Dunham said. "It is aligned to our mission here. It makes sense that we should be promoting those skills, not only across the university but also supporting what is an interesting ecosystem that’s emerging in the Twin Cities around social innovation."

Learn more about Clinton Global Initiative University.