UM-Dearborn has been steadily expanding its global education opportunities over the past several years, including a growing program to study abroad. Needless to say, a global pandemic has thrown a wrench in some of those plans, and UM-Dearborn’s Director of Global Engagement Scott Riggs has had to get a little creative to find opportunities that don’t involve travel. Last year, though, he ran across one with a lot of potential: The UN Millennium Fellowship — an international leadership development program for university students who are working on projects that advance one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The so-called SDGs are widely seen as a gold-standard blueprint for building a more equitable, environmentally focused global society.
Riggs says he can only take credit for putting the idea of the fellowship in front of students and organizing an initial info session. Responsibility for landing one of the spots in the competitive international fellowship program, he puts squarely on the eight students who applied as part of a three-campus U-M cohort. The group will be co-led by UM-Dearborn psychology and philosophy senior Amanda Saleh and UM-Ann Arbor art and design senior Anna Lebedeva. And as a cohort, they’ll all have access to online UN trainings and the other global fellows as they bring their work to life. But they’ll actually each be working individually on a project for their respective campuses. Saleh’s, for example, focuses on growing a campus chapter of the international organization buildOn, which engages students in global anti-poverty and literacy service projects. (She hopes to plan at least one project with a local community group and one that could send students abroad for a service project. Her team will be collecting donations for school construction abroad throughout the year.) Environmental studies senior Daniel Arini, UM-Dearborn’s other student in the cohort, plans on creating a digital 3D museum space focused on environmental activism, one of his lifelong passions. (You can volunteer for his project here.) And Lebedeva is using her semester fellowship to create an interdisciplinary, web-based hub for researchers and nonprofit organizers within the U-M system to share their work with one another. (Hers also has an interesting art “challenge”: Anyone who submits — artist or not — has to include some original artwork with it, even if it’s just a “stick figure” drawing.)
The students have various hopes for their fellowship experiences. Saleh, who’s been a campus organizer in several different spaces throughout her student career, says she’s hoping to take her organizing skills to a deeper level. In particular, she sees the program as a way to focus her energy on education justice, an issue that’s grown increasingly more important to her and one that’s a great fit for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. For Arini, the fellowship represents the chance to make real an idea he’s been “thinking about for a few years now” — and all the better that it can now include global perspectives that make the museum more complete. And Lebedeva is especially looking forward to the human connections they’ll make over the course of a fast-paced couple of months.
“This is only one semester, so it’s not like you can take on something huge, like solving world hunger,” Lebedeva says. “So for me, it’s more about the community — of getting to know each other, seeing the different approaches people take, connecting with people across the world, and then collecting all of those experiences so we can take our work far beyond the fellowship.”
Want to learn more about the UN Millennium Fellowship? Check out the program’s website for inspiring stories from past fellows. And we’ll keep you updated on Saleh, Lebedeva and Arini’s work in future issues of Reporter.