April 22, 2024

Two Student Leaders Receive U7+ Alliance Student Fellowship to Attend Global Conference in Milan

As a member of the U7+ Alliance of World Universities, Georgetown University was eligible to nominate students to attend the NEXT Milan Forum, a two-day international event that took place on March 18-19, 2024, at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. After a review of student applications, the Office of the Vice President for Global Engagement selected two School of Foreign Service undergraduate students, Brian Wibowo (SFS’25) and Chendi Liu (SFS’24), to nominate as representatives of the university who could participate in a special track for U7+ Alliance students at the forum.

The U7+ Alliance cohort of students posing for a group photo outside Bocconi University at the NEXT Milan Forum
The U7+ Alliance cohort of students posing for a group photo outside Bocconi University at the NEXT Milan Forum

Engaging with a Diversity of Perspectives

The forum gathered students like Wibowo and Liu and young professionals from around the world to participate in workshops and interactive plenary sessions, exchange views, and hear from prominent global leaders on international issues and challenges that ranged from women’s empowerment to nuclear security to sports, peace, and inclusion.

Wibowo, who majors in international economics at Georgetown University in Qatar and is originally from Indonesia, was particularly interested in the sessions on education as a catalyst for sustainable development and poverty alleviation because of his research interests and lived experiences in Southeast Asia. At the forum, he found insights from a diverse array of perspectives into how grassroots initiatives and localized solutions can help inform and elevate broader policy frameworks aimed at promoting equity and inclusion. He explained that this reinforced his belief “in the vital need for interdisciplinary, participatory models when tackling our globe's most intractable issues.”

On the other hand, Liu, who majors in international politics at Georgetown’s Washington, DC, campus, was most interested in the sessions that exposed her to a new area of thinking about the world, such as a session on “Designing the Cities of Tomorrow” led by Carlo Ratti, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She noted that “rather than propose new buildings that ‘conserved energy’ or entire redesign of cities, he suggested that the best way forward is actually finding innovative ways to use existing infrastructure.”

A Leader’s Lasting Impression

Both Wibowo and Liu agreed that their favorite session was “Boots on the Ground: Beyond the Military” led by Italian journalist and humanitarian worker Anna Prouse. Liu explained that Prouse, who has spent decades on the frontlines of conflict zones from Iran to Yemen to Iraq, thought it was important that humanitarian aid workers gain the respect of the local communities, and Prouse emphasized that this cannot be done exclusively from the green zones.

Her story left an indelible impression on Wibowo.

“[Prouse] served as a powerful reminder that leadership is not just about having the right answers or the most innovative solutions. It's about showing up, day after day, with an open heart and a willingness to listen and learn from those who are most affected by the challenges we seek to address.”

Global Access to Higher Education

Within the forum, a special track was incorporated for U7+ Alliance students so that Wibowo and Liu also had the opportunity to join a conversation with Bocconi University’s Dean of International Affairs Catherine De Vries.

The conversation with De Vries centered on the value of higher education and access to higher education. Liu recalled the U7+ Alliance students talking about the importance of higher education for critical thinking, intergenerational communication, and independent paths. When discussing access, Liu mentioned that students brought up different barriers to entry like legacy admissions and international student fees, as well as barriers within universities such as the mental load of finding housing and feeling safe and secure.

These student inputs were important considerations for the U7+ Alliance Presidential Summit that took place shortly afterwards on April 11-12, 2024, also at Bocconi University. At the summit, university presidents gathered to discuss, in particular, the theme of inclusive education for inclusive societies, and delivered a statement to the Italian Minister of University and Research Anna Maria Bernini on global access to education. Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia attended the summit virtually and Vice President for Global Engagement Thomas Banchoff attended in person.

Brian Wibowo and Chendi Liu collaborating with other U7+ Alliance students at a workshop at the NEXT Milan Forum
Brian Wibowo and Chendi Liu collaborating with other U7+ Alliance students at a workshop at the NEXT Milan Forum

Reflections on the Forum and the Future

When she reflected on the forum, Liu emphasized what she heard from others that challenged her own ways of thinking, rather than the comments she made.

“I think it’s an important reminder for everyone to think about the different space and perspectives they may represent in a room.”

Wibowo considered how each individual at the conference brought a unique wealth of experiences and insights but as a whole was motivated by a desire to drive positive change.

“While the challenges faced are undoubtedly complex and deeply-rooted, there is an emboldening realization that progress is achievable when each of us recognizes our integral role in shaping a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for all.”

From the keynote speakers to the workshop facilitators to the U7+ Alliance student leaders like Wibowo and Liu, the forum was filled with changemakers ready to listen and forge a better world.