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Students participating in the Association of Pacific Rim Universities’ Undergraduate Leader Program meet in Gerlinger Lounge on July 11, 2019 to present their solutions to their selected social issues. (Marissa Willke/Emerald)

From 29 universities and numerous countries around the Pacific Rim, 53 students came to Oregon to participate in the Association of Pacific Rim Universities’ Undergraduate Leader Program. The event, held from July 1 to July 12, was the latest in a series of annual gatherings of students from around the Pacific Rim focused on enabling “students from APRU member universities to apply their knowledge to critical policy challenges in the region, enhance their international experience, and enrich their key competencies and leadership potential,” according to the group’s website

It was the first time the event was ever held in the United States.

The students were split into teams to discuss solutions to three connected social dilemmas: social inequality, public health risks and environmental degradation. Representatives from local groups and nonprofits Lane Education Service District, HIV Alliance and BRING Recycling also worked with the teams throughout the 12-day program.

“I just really wanted to put what I’ve learned into practice,” said Nakita Daniel, a global studies in science major from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “To take what I know and help other people learn from that and learn from other people’s experiences. I feel like I had to take whatever opportunity was there.”

Daniel’s group tasked with discussing approaches to environmental degradation related problems, food waste chief among them. After 12 days of workshops, discussion and preparation, each student group presented their proposed solutions to the partner organizations on July 11. 

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Students participating in the Association of Pacific Rim Universities’ Undergraduate Leader Program meet in Gerlinger Lounge on July 11, 2019 to present their solutions to their selected social issues. (Marissa Willke/Emerald)

“I feel like there’s so many amazing people and everyone’s great at something,”Daniel said.  “We just need to find a way to work together and build on each other’s strengths.” 

Zheng Dong, a chemistry major from the University of California Los Angeles, also chose to focus on environmental degradation. “My favorite part is getting to meet all these people,” Dhong said. “How different their cultures are, and that has definitely played a role.” 

Dhong said applying her education to enact real world change was more rewarding than for her than using it in an academic setting.

“[The program] broadens your perspective when it comes to dealing with issues,” Dhong said. “You’re like, previously it was only from the American perspective and how our society functions. And then my group member will come and tell me something completely different, or about how their culture works in dealing with issues like these.”

Each university in APRU could nominate up to five students for the program, for a total of 50. However, so many strong candidates came forward that 53 students ended up participating, according to Will Johnson, assistant vice provost for international affairs at UO who was part of a committee formed to go through applications and select students for the summer program.

The program received over 100 applications, according to Johnson. “[We were] looking for interdisciplinarity in terms of majors, a balance around questions of ethnicity and representation from different parts of the Pacific Rim, and then we tried to look at just basic quality of application as well,” Johnson said. 

Galvan was concerned that politics in the U.S. would keep students from attending. “One of the things we thought about was, ‘Oh man, is anyone going to want to come to the United States in 2019, or will that be a problem?’” said Dennis Galvan, vice provost for international affairs at UO, the department which oversaw the event. “We worked a lot to crank up a program that would be appealing because students could see that they were going to work on something and that they were going to have an impact.”

According to Johnson, the themes of the program were chosen for their international relevance: universal issues that could be applied around the Pacific Rim, not local problems unique to the Pacific Northwest. 

 “The fact that here in our little corner of the U.S. we are hosting such a multinational event, you know,” said Galvan, “and showcasing the U of O as a place that does connecting and bringing people together — and doing that across national boundaries — is very exciting to see.”