Kennesaw State Hosts Second Cohort of Asian Leaders

YSEALI 2017 FellowsFebruary 17, 2017

Kennesaw State University welcomed 22 young leaders from Southeast Asia to campus in February as part of a month-long cultural engagement program funded by a $720,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State.

Throughout February, the University will host the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Institute on Civic Engagement titled Advancing International Civil and Human Rights Through Civic Engagement. YSEALI was created by former President Barack Obama in 2013 and is the federal government’s signature program for creating a strong and inclusive community in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

This is the second year in a row that Kennesaw State has hosted YSEALI cohorts. The University received a $240,000 per year grant from the U.S. Department of State to host the YSEALI institute for three years.

The 22 fellows – who will spend four weeks attending classes on civil and human rights taught by Kennesaw State faculty – were selected by the U.S. embassies in their home countries, which include Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Brunei. They are all either college students or recent graduates who have demonstrated strong leadership potential and a desire to improve their home communities and the world.

Lance Askildson YSEALI Program
Principal Investigator Dr. Lance Askildson welcomes the YSEALI fellows to Kennesaw State University

“I am so pleased that a group as superlative and impressive as yourselves is going to be making important impressions on our local community and on the Southeast as you travel around the Southeastern United States,” Dr. Lance Askildson said to the YSEALI cohort during their orientation on Feb. 2. Dr. Askildson is Kennesaw State’s Vice-Provost, Chief International Officer, and the principal investigator (PI) on the YSEALI grant.

During their orientation, the fellows’ excitement was palpable. They eagerly learned about Kennesaw State’s campus, enjoyed the first of many meals at the University’s award-winning Commons dining hall, and played impromptu games designed to help them get to know one another.

YSEALI students introducing themselves
YSEALI fellow Sengvida Manichan introducing herself to the rest of the cohort

The orientation’s light-hearted tone helped ease the fellows into their new environment, while also preparing them for the rigorous, challenging work they will complete as part of the Institute.

Co-PIs Dr. Linda Johnston, executive director of the Siegel Institute for Leadership, Ethics and Character, and Dr. Nuru Akinyemi, director of the Center for African and African Diaspora Studies, also presented at the orientation along with Ms. Serena Newhall, interim director of CIFAL Atlanta, an arm of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. Ms. Newhall will oversee a series of guest lectures during the YSEALI program featuring local civic and non-profit leaders.

Throughout the month-long program, the YSEALI fellows will participate in a variety of activities related to their program coursework, including attending weekly class sessions with Kennesaw State honors students in Dr. Askildson’s Cultivating a Global Intellect seminar, volunteering at area non-profits such as Books for Africa and Alive Ministries, collaborating with faculty to develop community service projects that they can implement in their home countries, and touring local and regional civil rights landmarks.

YSEALI students in Selma, Ala
The YSEALI cohort's visit to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

On Feb. 4th and 5th, the fellows traveled to Birmingham and Selma, Ala., where they spoke with civil rights foot soldiers from the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement. They toured the Edmund Pettus Bridge and Kelly Ingram Park, two key locations in the fight for African-American equality. Before the program ends, the fellows will also tour Atlanta-area landmarks such as the Carter Center and The National Center for International Civil and Human Rights.

Finally, the Institute concludes in early March with a study tour to civil and human rights landmarks in Miami, Charleston, and Washington, D.C. In D.C., the fellows will visit the US Institute for Peace and the Holocaust Museum, attend a lecture on women’s rights at the Sewall-Belmont House, and attend a final program debrief with representatives from the U.S. Department of State.

The YSEALI Institute provides these 22 exceptional young leaders from Southeast Asia with a unique opportunity to study civil rights, gain valuable networking contacts, and grow as community leaders and global citizens.

One such young person is Val Vestil from the Philippines. Val hopes to use his experience with the YSEALI Institute to develop a project that will help him increase awareness for his passion – environmental journalism – in his home country, where environmental issues are seldom covered in the media.

“People need to know about the crisis we are in, but it’s not being talked about. In America, there are environmental journalists – people who do research on environmental issues. It’s something I want to model for the Philippines,” he said.

“I can think big and say I’m going to do this for the entire nation, but I have to start in my home community. That’s the reason I was attracted to the YSEALI program. I’m looking forward to the global network that I will be a part of.”

YSEALI fellow Val Vestil
YSEALI fellow Val Vestil speaking at the welcome reception

Another YSEALI fellow from the Philippines, Madeline Aloria, hopes to use the contacts she makes during the Institute to help address her country’s issues with alcohol and drug addiction.

“It’s important for me to be able to network with other ASEAN leaders because we have the same problems,” she said. “With tobacco, the problem with smoking has shifted from the U.S. and developed countries to developing countries. The marketing strategies are now focused on pushing developing countries to smoke more.

“I think it’s just right that [people from ASEAN countries] join forces in the fight.”

YSEALI fellow Madeline Aloria
YSEALI fellow Madeline Aloria speaking at the welcome reception

At the end of the YSEALI Institute in March, each fellow will return home to formalize their community service project ideas into project proposals. In May, the fellows will reunite for a symposium at the Yale-NUS College campus in Singapore, where they will present their proposals for the award of project seed grants.

Now that Kennesaw State is two years into its three year relationship with the YSEALI program, Dr. Askildson describes it as a source of pride for the University and a labor of love for the faculty and staff involved.

“This is the reason that I became an educator,” he says. “Each member of the grant team is here because we love what the YSEALI program does. We believe in the goals of this program.”

YSEALI fellows ID cards
The YSEALI fellows become "official" parts of the KSU family

-Patrick Harbin