A prestigious leadership development program backed by the United Nations is putting Rollins students on the front lines of today’s most challenging issues.
Photo by Scott Cook
Educating Rollins students about the electoral process. Connecting displaced refugees with English tutors. Raising awareness for environmental and sustainability initiatives on campus. These are just three of the ambitious projects taken on by Rollins’ inaugural cohort of 14 Millennium Fellows this past fall.
Students from 285 campuses across 57 nations applied to the highly selective Millennium Fellowship, a prestigious leadership development program that empowers students to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on campus and in their communities. Rollins was one of just 30 colleges worldwide selected to host Millennium Fellows in the global pilot program launched this past year by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) initiative and the Millennium Campus Network (MCN).
For the semester-long fellowship, each fellow—under the guidance of two student leaders—worked on an individual or group project to advance at least one of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and one UNAI Principle, which includes everything from zero hunger and quality education to climate action and clean water. By choosing the mobilizing track of the curriculum, the Rollins fellows focused on learning how to collaborate with a community, delegate as leaders, and facilitate peer feedback as well as the importance of making a project culturally relevant, sensitive, and impactful. The fellows convened once a month to discuss their projects, exchange ideas, and explore themes like social identity, moral values, situational management, and mobilizing efforts. This curriculum track empowered the students to gain a better understanding of a community’s needs before diagnosing a problem or beginning a project so that they could systemically address the issue.
“The Millennium Fellowship provides our students with the unique opportunity to put their ideas into action,” says Micki Meyer, Lord Family Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs-Community. “Rollins students who participated in the program had an international platform to engage with environmental and cultural issues, including addressing poverty, human rights, sustainable cities, climate change, peace, and justice. These experiences not only enrich learning experiences for our students, but help them leverage their collective wisdom and passion to create positive change in the world.”
To advance the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, many of the students continued work they had already been doing, and now these changemakers are one step closer to their own goals. Here’s a look at the Millennium Fellows Class of 2018 and how each of them—now equipped with additional tools and resources—is ready to lead from a pulpit of purpose.
Since Lizzie Berry ’19’s first year at Rollins, she has been involved with Voices for Women, serving for the past three years as one of the organization’s co-presidents. The goal of Voices for Women is to empower, educate, and uplift women, their allies, and anyone oppressed by the same system that maintains inequalities and injustices. The organization works to organize inclusive meetings, engaging events, and community outreach.
During the four-month Millennium Fellowship, Berry and Voices for Women raised $2,000 to support sustainable, reusable menstrual care for 60 women for three-plus cycles. The menstrual-care products went to young girls at the PACE Center for Girls and survivors of abuse at Harbor House. Voices for Women also partnered with and co-hosted additional events with other organizations on campus like EcoRollins and Hillel to demonstrate intersectionality and to bring the campus community together.
“I learned the importance of setting realistic goals, and I really felt a part of something bigger by doing something small. I got to see firsthand how these small contributions can really add up to real culture change. It’s so wonderful at Rollins to know that if you want to do something, you have the opportunity to do it.”
The goal of the student-run Democracy Project is to register the entirety of Rollins’ student body to vote, to provide transportation to the polls for every student, and to provide every student with the information and avenues to become an active global citizen. Through her efforts with the Democracy Project, Braga worked specifically to provide a space for changemakers to collaborate and share their expertise with students about how to effect change in the global political landscape.
“Community, community, community. Stepping back and listening. Working with others. Understanding before action. It can feel disheartening to take on some of the world’s toughest challenges, and if I were doing it alone, it probably would be a Sisyphean ordeal. But the Millennium Fellowship has provided students with a community to collaborate, to help one another overcome obstacles, and to share successes in their respective projects. You realize you have decades to go, but in this space, success doesn’t seem insurmountable.”
Colin Brant ’20 and Muniba Khan ’20 examined a significant problem in the local Orlando area: the availability of microcredit for the city’s communities of migrant workers. It’s a concept the pair learned about while taking political science professor Dan Chong’s Politics of Global Poverty course. For their project, they focused on how Rollins could theoretically invest parts of its endowment into a program that would support the local community in the vein of Grameen Bank, an unconventional banking system based on mutual trust, accountability, participation, and creativity that provides credit to poor people in rural Bangladesh.
Brant and Khan are working on creating easy-to-read, accessible documentation on organizations like Grameen Bank that would be available to the public. This information will help raise awareness about these alternative funding sources for different entrepreneurial projects that could be helpful for people in communities often overlooked by the traditional financial sector.
“The [Millennium Fellowship] curriculum has been a major boon in my development as a leader on campus. I’ve been able to learn about high concept ideas like ethical leadership as well as grounded skills like interviewing.”
Gabbie Buendia ’19 set out to strengthen the Sustainability Program’s EcoReps initiative on campus by training and recruiting student leaders. EcoReps is focused on expanding the awareness of sustainability initiatives on campus and sustainability issues around the world. Buendia worked with another student involved in the Sustainability Program to teach their peers about local and global sustainability issues and give them the tools to brainstorm their own sustainability solutions. They also developed an awards system to keep students engaged while also fostering leadership skills. By creating a wider understanding of topics such as sustainability and climate change, Buendia hopes to motivate people to build more resilient cities and communities.
“This fellowship showed me how to connect local actions to global goals and citizenship. I feel motivated as a changemaker knowing that the actions I take in my local community have real global impact. I’ve learned that there’s always room to improve and that getting feedback and help from the people you’re trying to serve is the best way to do it.”
One of the reasons Christina Fuleihan ’19 came to Rollins was because of the College’s emphasis on service. For her Millennium Fellowship project, she was able to continue her prior work with a national student-led organization that offers personalized English-language tutoring to refugees. The goal of the project is to connect volunteer tutors from around the world with displaced refugees so that they can pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and advance their secondary-education opportunities.
“My role as a Millennium Fellow and campus co-director ultimately allowed me to add to and utilize the large arsenal of tools that participation in previous on- and off-campus service-oriented initiatives has afforded me. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to directly facilitate the educational efforts of fellow students, and while individual change may be limited, it’s never insignificant.”
During his semester study abroad experience in Morocco, Isaac James ’19 developed his Friends of Migrants and Refugees project to increase the engagement and acceptance of migrants, refugees, and immigrants within Morocco. While studying at Al Akhawayn University (AUI) in the city of Ifrane, James worked with local students to host panel discussions and to develop both an English-language learning program as well as a Moroccan Arabic, or Darija, learning program for migrants and refugees. These programs—which the students are continuing to develop—work to break down barriers and misconceptions, creating empathy and inclusivity between the local AUI college students and migrant communities.
“In a world where there are so many issues, sometimes people feel like the problems are just too big to tackle. Through the Millennium Fellowship, I realized how many people are willing to fight anyway and to defy the odds. I always think we should try no matter what because we’re talking about somebody else’s well-being and the future of our world.”
Major: Computer Science
Sustainable Development Goal: No Poverty
UNAI Principle: Addressing Poverty
Passions: Education reform and data science for social good
Muniba Khan ’20 and Colin Brant ’20 looked critically at the role of microcredit in reducing poverty. The pair found several microcredit organizations in Florida and dedicated much of the fellowship to researching how these organizations function. The next step is publishing their findings in order to increase awareness about these alternative funding sources for different entrepreneurial projects that could be helpful for people in communities often overlooked by the traditional financial sector.
“If you have an idea that you feel can make a difference through social innovation, you're definitely not alone. Look around you at the people in your Rollins community. You’ll soon find an incredible amount of support from professors, staff, and peers excited to work hand in hand with you to make the world a better place. I’ve been looking for ways to pursue a high-impact career with my computer science degree, and this summer I'll be doing research in Boston with a program called Voting Rights Data Institute analyzing gerrymandering and U.S. districting. I attribute this new direction to my experience with the Millennium Fellowship.”
Sklyar Knight ’19 serves as the student ambassador of the Democracy Project, a non-partisan, student-run organization that seeks to engage students in the democratic process. It educates, facilitates, and supports community engagement with politics through voter-registration events, peer discussions, and round-table events with educators and political leaders.
In anticipation of the November 2018 midterm elections, Knight continued building on his efforts, creating a voter simulation for first-year students, setting up voter-registration drives that provided eligible students with the opportunity to register as official voters, and organizing on-campus events. His goal was to obtain a 40 percent voter turnout on campus (the national average on college campuses is only 20 percent). The data from the National Study of Learning, Voting & Engagement (NSLVE) will be available later this spring.
“I grew as a changemaker during this fellowship by learning to think more intentionally about the underlying causes of voter apathy and devising unique, innovative programs to better engage the campus community in the democratic process. True change can only be achieved by working together with others toward higher principles.”
Working alongside Rollins’ Immersion program, which connects students to the community through hands-on service-learning projects, Grace Marshall ’20 devoted herself to immigrant and farmworkers’ rights. With the help of her co-advisor Meghan Oxford ’20 and faculty advisor, sociology professor Amy Armenia, Marshall led a group of students on an Immersion to the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka, just 40 minutes from campus. The purpose of the experience, which also included a homestay with one of the migrant families, was to serve the migrant worker community through service and volunteering and to learn what it’s like to be a farmworker, migrant worker, or new immigrant to the United States.
“Both the Millennium Fellowship and the Immersion program have been incredibly powerful experiences. Not only was it an incredible opportunity for me, but it was amazing to watch other students on campus change their own beliefs about our immigration system and learn more about a community of people who are so resilient and admirable. It’s easy to live in a bubble, but when people work to build empathy and create positive change, there’s so much we all can do.”
Majors: International Relations and Environmental Studies
Sustainable Development Goal: Responsible Consumption and Production
UNAI Principle: Sustainability
Passions: Conflict resolution, Latin American politics, and environmental policy
Through his involvement with the student organization EcoRollins, Raul Tavarez Ramirez ’21 serves as an advocate for environmental awareness and stewardship on campus. He continued this work during the Millennium Fellowship by organizing educational events that put students in contact with nature and the environment. Additionally, Ramirez focused on food waste by outlining steps students and their families could take to have a more sustainable Thanksgiving dinner.
“This experience really showed me that you don’t have to be a powerful CEO or politician to be a changemaker. With determination and perseverance, we can all drive positive change in areas that matter to us. It’s easier than we might think to create a network of people who are willing to do their best to make our world a better place.”
In 2016, Ellie Rushing ’19 traveled with education professor Scott Hewit on a field study to Rwanda, where her passion for community work and environmental education fittingly converged. She spent two summers in rural Rwanda developing and building a garden at a primary school, organizing meetings, raising funds, and helping the teachers and local community realize they had the skills and expertise to carry the project forward on their own. Today, the garden is managed by two full-time employees from the community and is supported by students at the school, who now receive lunch every day. During the semester-long Millennium Fellowship, Rushing worked to raise money for a water tank for the garden while also teaching students about international involvement that focuses on building community relationships.
“My approach on this project has been central to the practices Dr. Hewit taught us before our trip, which was how to listen, learn, and ask questions before ever making assumptions. I learned so much from my peers through this process, as we were able to build off each other’s experiences and ideas and learn from failures and successes in our projects. I hope that through the fellowship, the students in Rwanda feel empowered and understand their work and success.”
Through the Student Support Foundation (SSF), Josephine Spiegelberg ’20 tackled the difficulties people face when paying for college. The foundation provides emergency scholarships to Rollins students for things like textbooks, gas, food, and academic travel to allow them to focus on their education and achieve their goals. Spiegelberg worked to increase SSF membership, open a new resource on campus for students in need of food, and raise $300 to support the grants.
“I learned so much through our group discussions about how to work within a society and culture without imposing our own biases. I also learned a lot about leadership in terms of delegating responsibilities and finding a way to make sure everyone is able to play to their own strengths. Collaboration and empathy are two integral components of developing responsible leaders and global citizens.”
Shannon Sullivan ’20 worked with the Student Support Foundation (SSF) to raise awareness about the organization and increase its membership. SSF provides emergency loans of up to $200 to students in need of assistance with food, books, gas, and rent. Sullivan used this platform to focus on alleviating poverty by helping open a brand-new food pantry that serves the entire student body. SSF had three members at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, and membership has now grown to 11.
“Although it can sometimes feel like the problems of the world are too big to tackle, you don’t have to tackle them alone. The Millennium Fellowship served as a reminder that you don’t need to change the world overnight and that every small action, even starting a club on campus that helps struggling classmates, can make a difference.”
Through Rollins’ Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program, Mary Vickers ’20 discovered a love of activist anthropology and how it can help improve people’s lives. Alongside anthropology professor Nolan Kline, Vickers partnered with two community organizations to examine how immigration enforcement policies are impacting the daily lives of low-income immigrants in Central Florida. Throughout the semester, the team completed qualitative data analysis, provided a preliminary report to their community partner organizations, were invited to present their findings at the Society for Applied Anthropology Conference, and started writing a chapter for an edited volume already set for publication. Vickers also introduced Rollins students to UndocuAlly Training, which teaches students how to be more active allies to their undocumented classmates.
“There are lots of amazing people on campus doing amazing things. This fellowship experience really made me realize how lucky I am to be part of such a great cohort.”