A quote from former President Bill Clinton sums up what the Clinton Global Initiative University embodies, Penn State University Park student Arianna De Reus said.
De Reus attended the event held at Washington University in St. Louis in April that connected more than 1,000 college students from all 50 states of the United States and six continents who are on the path to making a humanitarian difference in the world, according to a CGI U press release.
De Reus, 20, of Hollidaysburg, a community environment and development major at Penn State, said Clinton, who worked on the Human Genome Project, had said: "We are 99.5 percent the same. We spend our entire lives focusing on that .5 percent, fighting wars and discriminating against others. We need to start focusing on that 99.5 percent."
Arianna De Reus of Hollidaysburg is shown with a local child in Kenya in May 2013. The Penn State student was chosen for Clinton Global Initiative University after she proposed Affordable Greenhouses for West Africa. She was one of 1,000 college students who attended the Global Initiative University in St. Louis in April.
"To me, this quote explains why all of us were there at CGI U," De Reus said. "To work on initiatives that improve the livelihood of others who have lives completely different from our own. But that through our work we find common ground."
Participants had to apply to attend the initiative, which stemmed from the Clinton Global Initiative the 42nd president established in 2005 to bring together global leaders to work on world challenges, according to the CGI U website.
Students who applied had to propose their own initiatives and how they would measure its progress, De Reus said.
The five focus areas for initiatives at CGI U are education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health. An initiative doesn't have to be a perfect match to those areas, though.
De Reus applied as a representative of the award-winning Affordable Greenhouse Venture at Penn State in the Humanitarian, Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship program, and proposed a new initiative of Affordable Greenhouses for West Africa, she said.
Initiatives from other students included ending the blood donor ban on gay and bi-sexual men and putting an end to human trafficking.
CGI U participants included Clinton; his daughter, Chelsea; humanitarian leader Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International; and Stephen Colbert, host and executive producer of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."
CGI U tries to keep the mood exciting and inspiring for the young crowd, and fun considering the heavy subjects the college students are facing, De Reus said.
Networking events among the students were also held, allowing for possible collaborations, she said.
De Reus attended sessions on the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and how they can be applied to address global problems, which is in line with what HESE does, she said.
De Reus and the other students were paired with mentors at the event.
She was paired with Esther Ngumbi, a postdoctoral fellow and Ph.D. graduate of Auburn University's Department of Entomology.
Ngumbi, who is originally from Kenya, was excited to hear about the greenhouses, De Reus said. Ngumbi even wanted to buy some for her home village with a grant.
Doing so is a dream realized with the help of Auburn University - which started Universities Fighting World Hunger after an invitation from the United Nations World Food Programme in 2004 - Penn State, CGI U and De Reus, Ngumbi said in an email that also praised De Reus, who she "connected instantly" with.
"It is an amazing initiative," Ngumbi said. "It is catered toward small-scale farmers who may not have a huge amount of capital that is needed to purchase most of the other greenhouses in the markets. Take for instance, me and my family. We could never ever have afforded one. However, through [De Reus'] 2013 Clinton Global University Initiative Commitment to Action, we now have a greenhouse in my community. The journey has just begun. I cannot thank her, Professor. Khanjan [Mehta] and Penn State enough."
De Reus just got back from Kenya a few weeks ago where she was working on the Greenhouse Venture. She also then spent time with her mom, Lee Ann, in the Democratic Republic of Congo teaching kids. She is now back at school, doing an internship and taking classes.
De Reus said at CGI U she found validation for what she and others have worked on through HESE and inspiration from other motivated students.
Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, spoke at the event. He and other speakers relayed a similar message, she said.
"He had such a wild idea at the time that no one was doing this, and so he said some times people will think you're crazy when you're working on these things, but if it's your dream, you just have to keep working at it and eventually you'll get there and then people who thought you were crazy will be like, 'Oh wow! This guy's a genius,'" De Reus said.
Speakers such as Salbi also shared similar stories of working tirelessly toward their passion.
The founder of Women for Women International, a refugee from the Middle East, came to the United States and wanted to start a program to help women. She had no money and holes in her shoes, De Reus said.
Her hard work eventually prompted a letter from the White House during the Clinton years, launching her career, she said.
She sent the message that "you just have to keep doing it and eventually you'll get there," De Reus said.
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.