The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) hosted 21 new fellows from Southeast Asia this fall. The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) grant, funded by the U.S. Department of State, brought fresh new faces to the UNO campus for a five-week institute focused on Civic Engagement. This cohort of young leaders included representatives from ten Southeast Asian counties: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. These promising fellows are emerging as leaders within their home countries. They are dedicated to making a difference through civic engagement, environmental and natural resources management, and entrepreneurship and economic development.
The Fall cohort arrived in Omaha on September 21st and eagerly became entrenched in hands-on leadership development activities. Their time wasn’t limited to the classroom. In addition to studying at UNO, the group visited non-profit organizations in the Omaha area. They participated in community service projects at the Belvedere Elementary School and the MICAH House. They participated in local culture with visits to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, The Durham and Joselyn museums, Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo, and local restaurants. For many, this was their first time experiencing Halloween. The costumes were a big hit! They also experienced the diversity that Omaha has to offer with visits to the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, Intercultural Senior Center, and the Tri-Faith Campus. Their time wasn’t all work and no play. The group managed to carve out time to visit an Alpaca farm and see the local play, “Red Summer” at the Bluebarn Theater.
Travel was also a part of the learning process. Over an extended weekend, the group traveled the region. They took a trip to the Winnebago Reservation, Mt. Rushmore, and the Badlands National Park. During their last week in the U.S., the cohort traveled to Boston and visited Harvard and Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. From Boston, the group went to New York City to visit the United Nations and see sights of the great city. Central Park, Times Square and the Statue of Liberty were among some of the favorite stops. The fellows then traveled to Washington D.C. where they visited the Smithsonian Institute and toured the U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress and the Supreme Court before their farewell dinner. The fellows returned to their home countries with a full experience.
These experiences are reinforced by the annual Alumni Summit, held in Southeast Asia. This August, alumni from the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 cohorts reconnected and expanded their learning through workshops and continued mentorship in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Program alumni have gone on to run non-profit and social entrepreneurship organizations in their own countries that focus on addressing critical issues. Others have pursued advanced degrees and leadership roles in their current positions and agencies. The Summit allows alumni to network and receive continued guidance as they pursue their dreams of improving the world around them.
The YSEALI grant was initially awarded to UNO’s International Programs unit in 2015 and again most recently in 2018. This grant was the largest awarded to UNO in 2018 at $3.9 million for the current grant cycle. Program Director Katie Kresha (International Programs), Academic Directors Patrick McNamara (Political Science) and Jodi Benenson (School of Public Administration), and Administrative Director Franecia Moore (International Programs) lead the UNO program team. While UNO is the prime institution, they also manage the YSEALI Institutes at Arizona State University and Kennesaw State University to fulfill the mission of building the leadership capabilities of youth in the region and strengthening the ties between the United States and Southeast Asia. The three-year grant cycle reached its halfway mark this Fall. UNO has hosted eight cohorts with 169 YSEALI fellows since 2015. International Programs looks forward to welcoming the ninth cohort in March 2020 and a Summit to follow in Summer 2020 in Malaysia.
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