29 WUSTL students invited to CGI U at Arizona State University

Sophomores Daniel Feinberg, Caitlin Lee and Madelyn Welsh will present 'Stay In Touch,' a texting service that will help families connect after natural disasters

(From left) WUSTL sophomores Daniel Feinberg, Caitlin Lee and Madelyn Welsh will attend this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

During a trip to South Africa, sophomore Daniel Feinberg saw two cellphones resting in a hollowed-out detergent container and had a revelation.

“Many families have almost nothing, but they do have cellphones,” Feinberg said. “In a lot of places across the globe, the cellphone is a lifeline.”

Especially after a natural disaster. To help family members connect after a typhoon or tornado, Feinberg has developed “Stay in Touch,” a texting service that enables disaster victims and their families anywhere in the world to communicate using any mobile phone.

“After Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, my brother and I were thinking, ‘There has to be a better way,’” said Feinberg, a biology student. “It’s almost impossible to keep in touch with the current technologies. Almost all systems require the Internet, but the Internet is not accessible in a lot of areas.”

WUSTL student to help open CGI U 2014

WUSTL graduate student De Andrea Nichols has been chosen to help open the 2014 CGI U meeting as one of five students featured at the opening plenary session, which begins at 8:30 p.m. (CDT) Friday, March 21, at Arizona State University.

During that time, Nichols will share the stage with former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales. She will have an opportunity to talk about her project and help inspire the more than 1,000 student participants who will be attending the session to take action and share their ongoing work.

The opening session will be streamed live.

Read more about Nichols’ work.

Feinberg and team members Caitlin Lee, a sophomore studying global health and health-care management, and Madelyn Welsh, also a sophomore, studying international and area studies, are among the 29 Washington University in St. Louis students invited to present their “commitment to action” ideas at the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) March 21-23 at Arizona State University. WUSTL hosted CGI U last year. Scheduled 2014 participants include Sen. John McCain, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and comedian Jimmy Kimmel.

CGI U organizers selected “Stay in Touch” as one of 32 student teams to compete in its 2014 Commitments Challenge, which is modeled after the NCAA basketball tournament. The teams that raise the most money move on to the next round.

“Stay in Touch” raised $4,020 from the public and have made it all the way to the Championship Round. Supporters can donate to the effort here.

A service ‘all of us could need’

Win or lose, Feinberg, Lee and Welsh plan to push ahead with the idea, which also could serve families torn apart by civil war or other conflicts.

“Unfortunately, this is the sort of service all of us could need at some point,” said Lee, who traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “Even here, there is an issue with emergency preparedness.”

“Stay in Touch” users would register in advance and create a directory of close family members and friends. Then, in an emergency, they could leave a message for anybody who is searching for them.

“That message could be a phone number or a location or simply a message that says, ‘I’m OK,’” Feinberg explained. “But what makes this unique is that it can be done from any phone because all you are doing is texting into our service.”

Founded by the Clinton Global Initiative, an initiative of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, CGI U supports projects that advance CGI U’s five focus areas: education, environmental sustainability, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health.

The Gephardt Institute for Public Service is the WUSTL representative of CGI U, and maintains the university’s status as part of the CGI U network by providing funding and training opportunities to CGI U participants.

Other WUSTL commitments to action include:

* Magic Food Bus: Sophomore John Wang, studying anthropology, proposes bringing a healthy food truck to St. Louis’ food deserts.

* The Social Kitchen: Junior Mackenzie Findlay, studying international affairs, wants to open a social business café in Seattle that would provide micro credit loans around the world.

* Project VES: Junior Sourik Beltran, studying anthropology, plans to expand an eyeglass clinic in Villa El Salvador, Peru.

* STEMs for Youth: Freshmen Nikki Metzger, studying bioscience, Allen Osgood, studying computer science, and Nate Vogt, studying engineering, plan to expand STEMs for Youth, which introduces STEM education through fun after-school programs.

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said he’s thrilled the “Stay in Touch” team and other students are building on the momentum from last year’s event at WUSTL.

“’Stay in Touch’ is a simple idea that could change the way that the world’s relief organizations carry out their work and bring hope to those affected by disasters around the globe,” Wrighton said.

“So many of our students want to make an impact on the world,” he said, “and the excitement of last year’s CGI U on campus was an inspiration for many of them. Large events like these – coupled with our own ongoing efforts to enact change through the Gephardt Institute for Public Service and outreach programs and research in all of our schools and colleges – are springboards that enable our students to turn their ideas into impactful, sustainable projects.”

Feinberg was among the many WUSTL students who attended CGI U events on campus last year. Comedian Stephen Colbert, Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Sen. Claire McCaskill all appeared, but it was Bill Clinton’s speech that motivated Feinberg to act.

“After I heard Bill Clinton, I knew that I wanted to be part of CGI U,” Feinberg said. “It may sound cliche, but seeing that huge room filled with people wanting to change the world really inspired me.”