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Students in Global Studies Academy Focus on Worldwide Topics

(L-R) Students Rachel Ortiz, Ashwin Hareesh and Ali Zaidi are part of the Global Studies Academy and had leadership roles in this spring’s Global Issues Summit.

(L-R) Students Rachel Ortiz, Ashwin Hareesh and Ali Zaidi are part of the Global Studies Academy and had leadership roles in this spring’s Global Issues Summit.

High Schoolers Have Passion For Solving Global Issues

By Mara Soloway

Three student leaders who have each been a part of Fort Bend ISD’s Global Studies Academy (GSA) for several years had already experienced the wider international world before they started in this academic program that provides students with a multicultural education. Travis High School sophmore Rachel Ortiz spent the first part of her life living in El Salvador until she moved here with her family. Seniors Ashwin Hareesh and Ali Zaidi at Clements High School both have spent time visiting family in other countries – Ashwin in India and Ali in Pakistan.

Among the three, they have traveled to six other countries and speak nine different languages. With their backgrounds, plus their years as students in the GSA, they also can fluently speak about the numerous issues facing the planet and its citizens.

Each April, the GSA holds a Global Issues Summit (GIS), which is organized and run by a small team of students under the direction of Global Studies Academy Coordinator Anne Beckman. The event is free and open to the public. Ali, Ashwin and Rachel were the student leaders who brought about the success of the April 2016 summit held at Clements, which had the most registrants ever, close to 700. The yearly theme of “Turning Awareness into Action” focused on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which outline five major areas to be improved by 2030: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.

As coordinator, Ashwin was the main person in charge of summit. He managed and delegated all the facets, including sponsorship, IT, speaker selection, advertising, day-of operations and networking. Each operation had a team of 4-8 people who Ashwin credits as doing the bulk of the work. “I had an inspiring and energetic team that motivated me to work harder every single day, and I am endlessly thankful for them,” he said.

Rachel’s role in the Summit was Travis High liaison. “I got to work with and learn from Ashwin and the team of people involved in organizing the GIS about the leadership and process of putting together such a big event involving many people. I will continue to be the GIS liaison for 2016-2017 and hope to be GIS coordinator my junior and senior year.” The Academy is in the process of transitioning to Travis and is located there for the classes of 2019 and beyond.

GSA council president Ali worked to   help secure speakers, liaison with dignitaries, secure proclamations and messages of welcome, and write the script for the event. Among the proclamations and messages Ali secured from elected officials for the 2016 Summit was the one from President Obama that was delivered in person by a White House staffer who is a GSA alum.

While considering the world’s issues en masse can get overwhelming, the students feel that everyone should get involved with an issue that concerns them. “The earth is our shared heritage, and it’s our shared responsibility to do whatever we can in whatever facets,” said Ali. “There’s no one solution, and it’s not going to come from a policy standpoint or an engineering standpoint. We can’t wait for governments or leaders or big companies to take action because they’re not the only ones that have a share in the future.” Ali feels the most significant feature of the UN Goals is that they both encourage and require action at every level of society.

“It’s hard to think about the issues in the world in their huge scope and think about what you can do as one person out of 8 billion. A lot of responsibility has to be taken to make problems go away,” Ashwin said. “Ultimately, individual water drops make up an ocean –you have to do your small part.”

Rachel feels that making the future better involves working within one’s community first, which will give the next generations a better future. “The average high school student should exemplify the change that he or she wants to see in the world. People will not take your message very seriously if all you say are empty words without actions to back them up,” she said. One of her concerns is that people of different religions and cultures on the planet do not live together peacefully. She is also interested in how to stop human trafficking.

Ali, Ashwin and Rachel are set to continue developing as global thinkers through their high school, college and professional careers. Ashwin and Rachel will likely study topics of interest and apply them to solving a global problem. Ashwin thinks he can make a difference in the clean energy sector with an engineering degree. Rachel sees herself pursuing a double major in engineering and business and using her future earnings “to raise awareness for global issues and fund organizations that help transform this world into a better place.”

For Ali, the planned path is to study international affairs in college and then hopefully serve the country in the U.S. Department of State. “Diplomats are critical to preserving the influence of the United States abroad and advancing our values across the world.” He is already actively involved with community and political leaders, including with County Commissioner Richard Morrison and was active in the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in Texas until March. It has given him a clear perspective.

“My political work in many of the less affluent portions of our county and city has deeply molded my outlook on the world,” he said. “What we’re dealing with especially at the local level are not red issues, they’re not blue issues. We’re talking about getting rid of poverty, hunger and climate change.” He feels that as millennials, who are the most knowledge-empowered generation in history and are active in promoting causes, transition into power, the future is promising.

Ashwin thinks being a global citizen is applicable to any career field. “Companies and governments are always looking for culturally aware people who are comfortble being in different parts of the world and dealing with people who act differently than them,” he said.


Visit fortbendisd.com/domain/2400 for more information on the Global Studies Academy.

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