Omaha – University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) won a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of State to lead the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) on Civic Engagement. This program will bring hundreds of young leaders from Southeast Asia for an international exchange program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and partner universities, Arizona State University (ASU) and Portland State University (PSU), over the next three years. The fellows will study leadership and civic engagement, explore American culture, develop action plans to implement upon their return, and visit the East and West Coasts.
Since 2015, International Programs at UNO has hosted academic fellows from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, plus Timor-Leste.
“These amazing young leaders are the best and brightest from their countries, future prime ministers, CEOs, ambassadors and NGO leaders” said Patrick McNamara, Ph.D., Principal Director for the YSEALI grant. “It is particularly important right now to have this sort of people-to-people diplomacy in order to challenge the misconceptions and stereotypes we have. Watching these young leaders bond with UNO students and Omaha community members is one of the best parts of my job. We learn as much from them as they do from us.”
The mission of the intensive, short-term exchange program is to provide participants with civic engagement, leadership and collaboration skills; cultivate an understanding of American culture, values, and institutions; and foster relations between the U.S. and Southeast Asian nations. The State Department’s Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau oversees YSEALI and other international exchanges.
Dr. Jodi Benenson, co-Principal Director and Academic Director of YSEALI, says, “I am thrilled about the opportunity to continue offering the YSEALI institute on civic engagement at UNO and our partner institutions. The upcoming academic program will build on the leadership capabilities of young people in the ASEAN region and provide access to the tools, relationships, and resources to contribute to social change.”
The YSEALI fellows will be connecting virtually and later participating in-person, which will be the first visit to the United States for most of the young leaders. In addition to studying at UNO or a partner university, students will explore the surrounding area, and visit both local and national landmarks during an in-person exchange. This will culminate in a visit to Washington, DC where fellows will present their action plans to Department of State representatives.
UNO will be collaborating with long-standing partner Arizona State University (ASU) and welcomes a new partnership with Portland State University (PSU). Hector Zelaya, Director of Executive Education at the Watts College of Public Service & Community Solutions shares, “The ASU team looks forward to an opportunity to host YSEALI Fellows in-person again and to leveraging opportunities to collaborate with the University of Nebraska at Omaha on joint virtual program elements.”
Masami Nishishiba, PSU YSEALI Director and Chair of the Department of Public Administration, says, “PSU is excited to be part of the team for YSEALI Institute for Civic Engagement with UNO and ASU. Under the motto, ‘Let knowledge serve the city,’ PSU has a long history of promoting civic engagement through community-based learning approaches. The members of the PSU team also have rich connections with various Asian nations including Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, China and Japan through a variety of different projects. YSEALI Institute for Civic Engagement allows us to combine our expertise in those areas and make a broader impact through the partnership with UNO and ASU. We are all grateful for the opportunity.”
In addition to the new university partner, UNO’s YSEALI Institute is also welcoming a new Administrative Director to the program, Julie Sadofsky. She is a University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumna with over 10 years of experience in education and international development work. Julie is excited to be part of this prestigious international exchange program at UNO and eager to support past and current YSEALI fellows as they become leaders of their generation.
Launched in 2013, YSEALI is a signature State Department program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. YSEALI focuses on critical topics identified by youth in the region: civic engagement; environment and natural resources management; and entrepreneurship and economic development.
Follow the YSEALI Institute on Civic Engagement at UNO & Partner Universities to learn more about YSEALI and the current Academic Fellows: https://www.facebook.com/ysealicivicengagement