In YLI’s Third Year, Students Design Policy Solutions in China, India, and the Middle East

HOUSTON, August 10, 2018 – From mid-June to early August, Asia Society Texas Center hosted more than 60 students for its third annual Young Leaders Institute. The program seeks to build global competency in Houston-area high school students and prepare them to face the challenges of tomorrow. Representing Houston’s ethnic diversity, the students came from 22 different schools in 9 local districts and 5 private institutions.

This was the first year with three sessions, adding a week on the Middle East in addition to repeats from 2017 on China and India, respectively. Students learned from experts in the field, including Rice University professor and Baker Institute senior fellow Steven Lewis, University of St Thomas professor Jon Taylor, MyIndMakers co-founder and political commentator Sunanda Vashisht, Zühne managing partner Rick Pal, University of St Thomas adjunct professor Claudia Baba, and University of Houston associate professor and Middle Eastern Studies program director Emran El-Badawi.

Each week also integrated diplomacy and culture through off-site visits at the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China, the Consulate General of the Republic of India, and the Arab American Cultural and Community Center. Guiding instruction and learning were facilitators Mary Reed, who teaches social studies at Memorial High School, and Krista Nix-Buckner, who is a social studies educator and debate coach at Katy High School.

New for this year was a day on social entrepreneurship, in which students learned about the intersection of financial gains and a social return on investment. Case studies focused on rural water transportation in India by use of the Wello Wheels device and saving premature babies in the developing world via the Embrace infant warmer. Students were then tasked with creating a project concept of their own. Popular pitches included microfinance for struggling farmers and female-owned handicraft businesses, colorful jewelry with pollution sensors, a smart phone app to monitor neighborhood crime, and new techniques to solve malnutrition and increase access to clean water.

Concluding each week, the students designed policy presentations aimed at solving the most pressing issues in the respective country or region:

  • The China session’s highest-rated group, which focused on standardized testing, sought to decrease the importance of the gaokao in university admissions and create more career options through apprenticeships and trade schools.
  • The India week’s top-performing quartet addressed corruption with the goal of creating a centralized public information office to process citizens’ requests and establishing a lokayukta, a state-level anti-corruption ombudsman, in all of India’s 29 states and 7 union territories.
  • Finally, the top-rated group on the Middle East looked at reviving the Palestinian economy through exchange with neighboring Israel.

The Young Leaders Institute also develops students’ varied learning styles by incorporating a short written assignment, guided research, small group interaction, and oral presentations.

“It was a pleasure to have (my child) participate this year, and I feel that she has gained significant research and presentation skills," one parent said.

Students added that they would recommend the Young Leaders Institute to their friends. One student said, "This program helps (build) critical thinkers and encourages problem solving… It was an engaging and learning experience that approached global issues through a greater lens.”


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