In Fifth Year, Young Leaders Institute Connects Students, Builds Global Competency Virtually
HOUSTON, September 29, 2020 — The fifth year of Asia Society Texas Center's Young Leaders Institute marked the first time the summer program took place online, with three week-long session offered virtually in July and August in response to safety concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic. With activities designed to prepare high school students to become leaders in today's interconnected world, each session focused on the different timely, relevant global topics of Energy and the Environment, Food Security, and COVID-19.
Moving online offered the institute the opportunity to expand its geographic reach, and the 2020 Young Leaders Institute welcomed 96 high school students from not only the greater Houston area but College Station and Boston, Massachusetts, as well, representing 27 schools that included public, private, and online. The institute also took advantage of the virtual space to offer early-career breakout sessions for the first time. These sessions connected students to young professionals from different backgrounds for small group discussions on academic and career milestones, allowing the students to ask questions and learn from the young professionals' personal and professional experiences.
As students worked in groups throughout each week to design a policy solution for major issue within the week's topic, they heard from experts in the field. Speakers for Energy and the Environment included CEO of Wind Energy Al Vickers, Chevron North America Exploration and Production Company's General Manager of Exploration Andrew Dieghan, and Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy at The Fletcher School at Tufts University Kelly Sims Gallagher. Experts discussing food security included Director of the Global Food Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Caitlin Welsh, Research and Community of Practice Coordinator for the Foresight4Food Initiative based at the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute Saher Hasnain, and Houston Food Bank Health Promotion Coordinator Sarah Crulcich. In learning of the diverse impacts of COVID-19 around the world, students heard from UTHealth School of Public Health Professor of Healthcare Management Gordon Shen, Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson, and president and CEO of the George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S.–China Relations David Firestein.
In addition to receiving staff guidance and feedback on their policy proposals, students participated in leadership development activities, while learning more about the different qualities of successful leaders from Rice University's Doerr Institute for New Leaders Leadership Coach Ruth Reitmeier, Garza Protocol Associates founder and principal Sonia Garza-Monarchi, and leadership and mentality coach Vani Rao.
Students concluded each week-long session with virtual group presentations of their final policy solutions before a panel of three judges:
- The winning group for the Energy and Environment session focused their policies on promoting Cambodia's future energy security, presenting a two-pronged solution to increase private investment as well as create government regulations to mandate energy-efficient buildings and provide tax incentives.
- The top-rated group for the Food Security session advocated for expanding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to address existing and growing food insecurity, using data to inform their proposal for loosening eligibility, expanding benefits, and increasing the number of SNAP workers.
- In the final session focused on COVID-19 impacts, the winning group sought to improve education for low-income students who have been particularly affected by the pandemic by addressing the digital divide, proposing a practical, evidence-based solution for online distance learning and how to implement it.
For many students, a highlight of this year's Young Leaders Institute was a chance to collaborate with students from different backgrounds and experiences. One student said, "The best part [was] being able to work with people from different schools and grades who had different viewpoints on particular issues that I am not able to discuss thoroughly elsewhere, and in the end coming together to create a presentation that combined multiple ideas."
Another student added that the Young Leaders Institute "helped me grow not only as a leader, but as a team member as well."
For another student, the most important takeaway from the Young Leaders Institute was learning that "there are things we can do as young adults to solve issues happening in the world right now."
Previous Young Leaders Institute Programming
In YLI's Third Year, Students Design Policy Solutions in China, India, and the Middle East
High School Students Discover China and India through Summer Institute
Students Dive Deep Into U.S.-China Relations During Young Leaders Institute
About Asia Society Texas Center
With 13 locations throughout the world, Asia Society is the leading educational organization promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among the peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and West. Asia Society Texas Center executes the global mission with a local focus, enriching and engaging the vast diversity of Houston through innovative, relevant programs in arts and culture, business and policy, education, and community outreach.