Engaged In Discovery

By Eleanor Davis

“Are we alone [in space]?” President Bill Clinton asked NASA astronaut Cady Coleman at the 2016 CGI U. While musings about outer-space might seem off topic for an action-based student conference, the themes of curiosity, discovery, and pushing the limits of possible are not.

Whether or not we are alone in space, for the foreseeable future we as humans are dependent on this small blue planet for life. To ensure a healthy, safe, and equal future for current and future generations, we are going to need many creative innovations. At CGI U student innovators committed to projects that ranged from creating backpacks that carried water to help farm workers combat kidney disease to creating social networks that support foster children in the mid-Atlantic. No idea is to big or to small and the only limitation is your imagination.

CGI U gives a platform for students to discuss ideas and share best practices. New ideas and partnerships are born over the two day conference. Even if other students’ ideas are not related to your own commitment, the energy and optimism fuels progress and reinvigorates our drive to innovate. One student I met is trying to put mussels in the Chicago River to clean the water and prevent the costly dumping of germicides into the river to “clean” it as per EPA regulations. Her excitement was infectious and even if it was not completely relevant to my commitment, we all have the same goal — help our fellow humans.

As my commitment is about two months from its end, I was able to share experiences and insights with other, early-stage, commitment makers. I also got ideas on meaningful ways to wrap up the project. I have worked with a team to teach middle school students in Ward 8 of Washington, D.C. about geography through open source mapping software, topical lessons, and exciting speakers. We have learned many lessons along the way but the one I shared most often, is the idea that you need to be flexible and listen to your community partners. We could not have completed this project without the help of Higher Achievement. Flexibility is key and all plans change.

In the end, I am grateful for the chance to have attended CGI U and I know even after my commitment is finished, I will use these memories and lessons as motivation to continue discovering and innovating. But for now, I know the answer to the 42nd President’s question, we are not alone because we are together.

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