WUSTL student to help open CGI U

Brown School's De Andrea Nichols chosen to inspire students at opening plenary

Washington University in St. Louis graduate student De Andrea Nichols has been chosen to help open the 2014 Clinton Global Initative University meeting as one of five students featured at the opening plenary session that begins at 8:30 p.m. (CDT) Friday, March 21, at Arizona State University.

Dee Nichols
De Andrea Nichols

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 CGI U commitments to action and help inspire the more than 1,000 student participants who will be attending the session to take action and/or share their ongoing work.

“The opening session is what I’m most excited about,” Nichols said. “To share the stage with such a distinguished group is mind boggling.”

Nichols, a second-year student at the Brown School, was selected from a large pool of commitments by the CGI U team as an exemplary approach to addressing a specific global challenge. She participated in last year’s CGI U with a project called Design Serves (D* Serves). This year, she is back with a project called United Story, partnering with Brown School student Emily Bornstein.

It’s all an extension of the work that began with Catalyst By Design, a venture created by Nichols whose goals, she said, are “to equip individuals, organizations and communities with design tools that help them change the world.”

Catalyst by Design’s three main projects are:

  • The Creative Catalysts, described as a design consultancy serving organizational clients and partners;
  • Design Serves, an educational initiative that teaches K-12 youth design skills and civic engagement; and
  • United Story, a story-based event series that crowd-funds social change ideas.

“All of these things have either progressed or happened since last year’s CGI U,” Nichols said. “That was a great jumpstart to everything we are doing now. I have a board, a staff, a lot of new partners and clients, and a lot of volunteers ready to move forward.

“It’s definitely been a whirlwind, but it has been the best experience,” she said.

Nichols (back right, in yellow) appeared at a news conference with Chelsea Clinton at the 2013 CGI U, in which Clinton singled out a few student projects. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

It’s not the first time the CGI U team has singled her out. Nichols was selected to share her work in a news conference with Chelsea Clinton during the second day of the 2013 CGIU. Clinton called the group of about 10 students “inspiring” and “a privilege to learn from.”

Nichols is a 2010 graduate of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts in communication design. As an undergraduate, she was a John B. Ervin Scholar and an Enterprise Holdings Scholar and received the prestigious Gerry and Bob Virgil Ethic of Service Award, as well as the Langston Hughes Award.

She began her studies at the Brown School in the fall of 2012, crediting Amanda Moore McBride, PhD, associate dean of the Brown School, as her own catalyst for suggesting to the Sam Fox student that she needed to pursue studies in social work.

“I saw in De a mix of vision, creativity, and charisma that, when paired with her fierce commitment to social change, could catapult her to national leadership in social work,” McBride said.

Nichols’ matriculation at the Brown School was, Nichols said, the seed that sparked the incorporation of Catalyst By Design and all the good things that have happened since.

“I would have never even considered a social work degree if I had not met Professor McBride my senior year as a Sam Fox student,” Nichols said. “I credit her for so much that is happening because graduate school has been a whirlwind.

“I may not be the most academic student, but I can firmly say I have done my best to represent the Brown School and my best to open avenues and doors for other students,” she said.

And after graduation? Nichols laughs. “I’m awaiting word on an exciting fellowship opportunity that, if it happens, may cause me to miss graduation. But we’ll keep forging ahead.”

The 2014 CGI U Opening Plenary session will be livestreamed here.

Read more about WUSTL students participating at CGI U 2014 here.