Staff Spotlight: CGI U Commitments Manager Myeashea Alexander
From commitment-maker to staff member, see how Myeashea’s experience as a student at CGI U 2010 continues to inspire her today.
The Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) was founded on the belief that young people have the power to make significant impact in their communities and around the world. Proof of that power and their drive to make a difference was evident at last month’s CGI U annual meeting in Chicago, where more than 1,000 student leaders committed to address pressing issues, such as hurricane recovery, gun violence, financial inclusion, and more. Just as important as the new commitments made every year, is the longevity of CGI U students’ work and that the desire to create change often goes beyond their commitment year. One such example is the Foundation’s very own Myeashea Alexander, who is a CGI U alum.
Myeashea has done a full circle in her involvement with CGI U. She began her experience with CGI U as a commitment-maker in 2010 while she was a senior at The New School, Eugene Lang College, committing to teaching leadership and community activism to young girls and women in underserved communities. She then became a Commitment Mentor in 2013 for the Arts and Media keyword, where she helped students working on commitments that used artistic or media projects as tools for community empowerment, education, therapeutic recuperation, or advocacy.
This fall, Myeashea joined the Foundation as the CGI U commitments manager. Myeashea — trained in filmmaking and digital media — studied bio and forensic anthropology in grad school and conducted research that focused on the ways in which forensic techniques, and the data gained from them, can help understand the cultural and historical lives of communities that are marginalized, underrepresented, or misrepresented. It’s a form of social justice that emerged from her initial CGI U commitment, and it’s through this lens that she continues the work by building a science and anthropology outreach program called “The Rockstar Anthropology Mobile Lab,” that provides hands-on workshops for underserved schools in the NYC area. She voluntarily runs about 4–6 workshops a year as a fun way to engage youth using science and show them what’s possible, upholding her personal philosophy to “do what I can to make the world suck less,” which was inspired by Alexis Ohanian, Reddit co-founder, whom she heard speak during a CGI U skill session in 2011.
Learn more about Myeashea and what drives her in the Q&A below and get inspired!
What was your Commitment to Action and what inspired you?
My commitment, “In Media Resolution,” was a workshop that taught leadership and community activism to young girls and women in underserved communities through a media literacy and digital video production skills curriculum. Our tag line was “From consumers to producers.” At the time, we were studying the work of theorists like Marshall McLuhan and Guy Debord, learning about the psychological aspects of communication and marketing, analyzing existing media and messages while producing our own digital content. As women and women of color, we understood the transformative power and possibility of this particular mix of media literacy and practice, especially for marginalized communities. When we heard about CGI U, applying to the conference seemed like a great opportunity to build out an idea that would aim to empower a population that were particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of media and consumerism. We were inspired by our personal experiences and the types of changes that we wanted to see in the world. We wanted to inspire women to be empowered and in doing so, become empowered ourselves.
Can you remember a moment when you realized the impact you were making through your Commitment to Action?
There were many moments, but I think one of my favorites was working with a little girl who had been bullied, and she wanted to do a project that was a kind of a self-portrait. She created a video that was about who she was and how she felt. She wanted to assert her voice, and find a way to stick up for herself, but not be confrontational. I remember as she was working on the project, she was hesitant to share it publicly, but ultimately she overcame her feelings and showed her video. Afterward, other kids were so impressed that she was now a filmmaker. I remember how proud this little girl was of her project, and how thankful her mother was for this opportunity. Through the process, she had watched her daughter become more confident and make new friends. She even learned a thing or two from her daughter about media and messaging, so much so that she started reading through the book list we provided. It was an example of the exact outcome we had hoped for when we started — from bullied to boss!
What was the most important lesson from your CGI U experience?
Just one?! It’s been eight years since my first CGI U experience. I think in that first year, the most important lesson I learned then was more about the willingness to step up to challenges and to not shrink or back away from them. However, over the years, I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned is about the value of failure. Failure, especially as a college student, is terrifying. In fact, universities typically discourage it among their students. Learning to reframe and redefine my relationship with what failure means in terms of being an instructive part of a process, rather than a critical statement of my entire self-worth is, in large part, due to my experiences with CGI U. This shift in philosophy has helped me to understand how failure is part of a necessary process toward learning, transformation, and success. It doesn’t mean that it’s not any less heartbreaking, but I’m now less inclined to dwell on depths of my personal inadequacies if I try something that doesn’t work out as planned. Plus, I’ve built a really wonderful, supportive cohort in my fellow CGI U peers who know those growing pains well and can offer sound advice anytime.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give to college students looking to make their mark on the world while they’re still in school?
Get plenty of rest, exercise, and eat well. This sounds so basic, but there’s a terrible, romantic idea that as a college student, you’re supposed to get very little sleep, live off pizza and corn-based snacks, and be on a constant grind. There’s nothing glamorous about these behaviors. If you want to make your mark on the world, start with a commitment to yourself and wellness, and then aim for consistency. Admittedly, this is “do as I say, not as I did” advice, but don’t wait to get sick or have a crisis before deciding to take time out for yourself. One hour a day is about four percent of your day. Give yourself four percent.
Can you tell us about your role at the Foundation and what you’re looking forward to?
I’m the commitments manager for CGI U. Every student that is invited to participate in CGI U submits an application that includes a Commitment to Action — a new, specific, and measurable initiative that addresses pressing challenges on campus, in local communities, or around the world. My role is to manage those commitments, help create resources for those students to develop their project, and help students network with each other during the meeting and beyond. I also look for ways to help showcase and elevate outstanding commitments, past and present, at the annual CGI U meeting and throughout the rest of the year. I’ve just completed my first CGI U as a staff member, and it was a wonderful experience. I’m looking forward to helping with the upcoming webinar series, which I think will be an awesome benefit for students looking to get more in-depth guidance and expertise in diverse topics from our talented, skilled, and passionate mentors, and me!
Thank you Myeashea for sharing! Learn more about CGI U here.