Graduate students ProSPER with CGI U project on understanding science​

Application workshops for 2013 CGI U continue

Excitement is building at Washington University in St. Louis in anticipation of hosting the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U).

CGI U application workshops are under way and two graduate biology students are seeing their hard work from CGI U 2012 come to life.

In April, Teresa Ai, second-year doctoral student in immunology, and Rebecca Lowdon, second-year doctoral student in molecular genetics and genomics, launched the student group ProSPER, or WU Graduate Students Promoting Science Policy, Education and Research, after attending CGI U in Washington, D.C., on a civic engagement grant from WUSTL’s Gephardt Institute for Public Service.

The graduate student organization aims to improve science literacy, explore the relationship between social issues and science, and promote rational decision-making. Ai and Rebecca Lowdon, graduate students at Washington University in St. Louis, discuss ProSPER, a student group developed out of their Clinton Global Initiative University 2012 Commitment to Action. Ai and Lowdon decided to form ProSPER to improve public understanding of scientific issues and how they affect legislation and public policy. Above: Ai met former President Bill Clinton at the CGI U conference in Washington, D.C., last year. WUSTL will host CGI U 2013 in April.Former President Bill Clinton launched CGI U in 2007 to engage the next generation of college leaders worldwide. The annual CGI U conferences bring together students, youth organizations, experts and celebrities to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges.

Each CGIU attendee is required to develop a Commitment to Action, a
concrete plan that addresses a pressing challenge in one of CGI U’s
five focus areas: education; environment and climate change; peace and
human rights; poverty alleviation; or public health.

ProSPER, inspired by Ai and Lowdon’s Commitment to Action, brings together nearly 120 graduate students in business, science, law and other studies. The group has hosted several events to educate the university community about issues at the intersection of science and public policy.

On Sept. 27, ProSPER and the Gephardt Institute held a panel discussion about environmental policy and science. Speakers included Maxine Lipeles, JD, co-director of WUSTL’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic and senior lecturer in law; Edward Smith, director of the Safe Energy Program of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment; and Warren Wood, vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs at electric utility AmerenUE Corp.

“That was a great discussion,” says Lowdon, 25, of Roanoke, Va. “ProSPER is capturing the imagination of graduate and professional students at Washington University.”

Ai and Lowdon decided to form ProSPER to improve public understanding about scientific issues and how they affect legislation and public policy.

“We recognized, after talking to many of our peers, that there is a lot of interest and confusion as to why the science is not effectively communicated and why science results aren’t translated into policy. There wasn’t a vehicle for students to act on this interest,” says Ai, 24, of Santa Clara, Calif., and a former intern with CGI America in Chicago.

They hope, for example, that their work will help dispel misunderstandings and politically motivated fabrications about the effectiveness of the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV), which has been clinically shown to fully prevent HPV infection. This would virtually eliminate the risk of cervical cancer from HPV.

“It’s a black-and-white finding,” Ai says. “But vaccine development has really been hurt by ineffective communication.”

Both students say they are pleased at the involvement from their peers in ProSPER and they expect it will continue as they plan more programming. ProSPER aims to expand its efforts to the St. Louis metro area, the founders say.

“I’m interested in how science literacy can improve people’s lives,” Lowdon says.

Robin Hattori, assistant director of the Gephardt Institute, commended the co-presidents for the quick success of ProSPER.

“They have been great at drawing people into this topic and they are poised to have impact in the greater St. Louis community,” Hattori says.

Ai and Lowdon say the experience of executing a CGI U Commitment to Action has been inspiring and an important opportunity to network with others.

They also have learned a tremendous amount about the interaction between science, business, policy and communication.

“The one impact I would love to see ProSPER achieve is to inform or change the minds of our Congress people on issues that matter to our graduate students and people in St. Louis, issues such as climate change, or pollution at the local level, or chemicals and how they affect us in our day-to-day products,” Lowdon says.

ProSPER leaders can be contacted at

Remaining CGI U application workshops

  • 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12, in Connor Auditorium, Farrell Learning and Teaching Center at the Medical Campus
  • 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, in College Hall, South 40

Register for the workshops at

Up to 200 WUSTL undergraduate, graduate and professional students will be selected to participate in CGI U. Other volunteer opportunities will be available.

The early decision application deadline for the 2013 CGI U is Nov. 30, and the final deadline is Jan. 30. For thorough review, WUSTL students are strongly encouraged to submit their applications online prior to the final deadline.

Visit to learn more about the program in general. For more information about the workshops, contact Hattori at (314) 935-8628 or, or Jill Carnaghi, associate vice chancellor for students and dean of campus life, at