04/07/2014 05:10 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2014

Breaking Boundaries: From UA to CGI U

This blog post was originally featured on the Undergraduate Awards Blog.

It was a little over a year after I won the 2012 Undergraduate Award when I got accepted to the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative University conference. The acceptance came as a surprise. Used to reading books and writing papers, I'd long held the mistaken belief that the so-called start-up culture was an antithesis of academia. Even when CGI U later honored my project for its "exemplary approach" to addressing a global challenge, I was prepared to believe that I was one of CGI U's "admissions mistakes."

But upon a second thought, it all made sense. Whereas UA recognized my academic achievement, CGI U provided me with the validation to take it one step further into the real world. The issue of international justice has always been a major area of interest to me, and my CGI U project specifically examines the International Criminal Court's prosecution of the Kenyan state leaders for crimes against humanity. Partly in an effort to balance depth and impact, I have adopted a two-pronged approach for my project: It will at once generate policy feedback for the ICC and the relevant UN agencies, and assist the victims of the Kenyan crisis following the violence. In so doing, I'm hoping to help establish a communication network for international justice facilitators, as well as an avenue for victims of injustice to express their needs.

Rather than a "distraction" from my academic coursework, I see my CGI U project as a logical extension. It gives me a special opportunity to both supplement theoretical learning with real-world experience and more importantly, to transform such learning into a concrete, positive impact that hopefully will gain its own momentum in the process. In today's world, it is becoming increasingly counterproductive to treat "academia" and the "start-up scene" as two distinct if not opposing spheres. Instead, what we need to do is create synergy between these two tremendously energetic "poles" that can, and should reinforce each other.

My experience of attending CGI U just a few weeks ago confirmed my speculation that this trajectory was taking place around the globe. It was as inspiring to hear the distinguished individuals speak as it was to mingle with hundreds of brilliant young minds from all over the world, each with a big, bold idea. Ultimately for me, those three days in Arizona were about breaking boundaries, treading new grounds, and unleashing that creative, innovative energy that I never knew had existed within me.

"Let me get to know the guy/girl who has half of an idea that I can combine with my own," said my friend and mentor Kyra Maya Phillips whom I met at the 2012 UA Summit. Those words have since stayed with me, as I have continued collecting numerous such "half ideas" while having my breath taken away time and again by just how quickly the imaginary boundaries retreat. Like UA, CGI U is yet another signpost that will remind me of the simple fact that the sky is the limit, and that plus est en vous.