McDonnell International Scholars Academy students travel to New York, meet leaders in finance, media and government

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stood before Washington University in St. Louis’ McDonnell scholars earlier this month and told them the truth – the world’s leaders have failed to stop civil war, poverty or the ravages of climate change.

But, he continued, one day they might.

“Mr. Ban Ki-moon told us, ‘This is what we need to do better,’” said Kuan-Yu (“Mike”) Shen, who is earning his PhD in energy and environmental chemical engineering. “A lot of politicians will speak in a polite way but won’t come out and address the issues, but he showed us you can be direct and diplomatic.”

This is the third time Ban has spoken to members of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy during their spring break trip to New York. Scholars also met this year with Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Michael Slackman, deputy foreign editor of The New York Times, as well as other leaders in media, politics and finance.

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“A lot of times during the trip, we were so stimulated by the meeting we just had we would keep the conversations going on the bus,” Barton said. “It was very interesting to be the American and to see things, like the museum, from a more global perspective.”

Some of those conversations were hard, Shen acknowledged.

“We speak differently and grew up differently and all experienced this big, sad news and its aftermath differently,” Shen said. “It’s not easy to share your thoughts with others that might disagree with you. But that’s just good practice for the future. Because if we can’t have these discussions with each other, then who can we have them with?”

That’s why Wertsch calls the academy “a safe place for unsafe discussions.”

“You need to know and understand each other to have the tough conversations,” Wertsch said. “And one of the best way to get to know someone is to travel with them.”