Its one thing, say in a class discussion or job interview, to talk aboutmaking a difference,but Emily Renzelli is actually doing iton a global scale.
The West Virginia University seniors malaria awareness campaign was picked as the winner of the national Buzz Cuts contest. The competition was created by the United Nations Foundations People Speak Campaign to benefit Nothing But Nets, a global, grassroots effort to prevent malaria by sending life-saving bed nets to children in Africa.
The contest challenged college students to create innovative campaigns to engage their campuses in the fight against the deadly disease. Renzelli, a political science and philosophy student from Bridgeport, competed against hundreds of other college students around the country.
After submitting a 500-word proposal last summer, 12 finalists were chosen to receive mini-grants to implement their plans. During the fall, Renzelli and other students documented their progress through blogs and videos (http://www.thepeoplespeak.org/activities/buzzcuts/), and students could vote online for their favorite campaign. RenzellisBite Backidea received the most votes.
Victoria Baxter, executive director of The People Speak, an initiative to educate and engage young people on global issues, called Renzellis proposal aninnovative and fun approach to advocacy on the serious issue of malaria.
The WVU students planfeatured in the latest Youth Service America publication (http://tools.ysa.org/downloads/modules/MalariaModule.pdf)involved a series of awareness activities around the acronym BUG . Students received lettered wristbands as they completed different activities:Bfor believing,Ufor understanding andGfor giving.
For thebelievingstage of her campaign, Renzelli encouraged students to sign a petition, pledging their support and dedication to fighting malaria. She collected 2,000 signatures, which she took to the state capitol to share with Gov. Joe Manchin.
After returning from Charleston, Renzelli started the second phase,understanding.During this stage, she focused on raising awareness about malaria through one-on-one conversations, as well as through a fun and educational party, where participants were encouraged to learn facts about malaria.
Finally, during the third stage,giving,Renzelli held a community bake sale and recruited fellow students to e-mail their families and friends to raise money for nets. For only $10, donors could provide an insecticide-treated bed net to a child and his or her family in Africa and save at least one life (http://www.nothingbutnets.net/). The Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation matched donations net for net.
Very few Americans realize that malaria kills over one million peoplemostly childrena year,said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Global Development Program at the Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation.Emilys efforts and the larger Nothing But Nets campaign are critical to helping people of this country understand that they can be part of the fight against this deadly disease. As a fellow West Virginian, I am particularly pleased by Emilys great work.
Helping others is a passion for Renzelli, whose plans include working for a nonprofit, attending law school and eventually opening her own public interest law firm that represents people with HIV /AIDS. A life-changing trip to Africa to complete a case study on HIV and AIDS prevention services motivated her to get involved in the mission to combat malaria.
Im honored to receive this award from an organization that deals with issues close to my heart,she said.Upon returning home from performing service work in Africa, I made a commitment to continue working with issues related to Africas development.
As the winner of the national competition, Renzelli received a $500 cash prize and will have her plan for malaria awareness put into action by other college students across the country.
Ill only stop fighting for this cause when its no longer a problem,she said.I plan to continue raising awareness and funds for the cause, and I hope to have inspired other students to do the same.
Among those inspired by Renzelli is Kimberly Colebank, director of WVU s Center for Civic Engagement, who joined Renzellis cause, along with Americans for Informed Democracy, a partner of The People Speak.
Emilys hard work and dedication to combat malaria, as well as her first-hand knowledge of Africa, made her a natural choice for this honor,Colebank said.It is evident through her project and online submission that she gave a tremendous effort for the UN Foundations Nothing But Nets campaign. We are so proud to be her campus partner, so fortunate to know her and so very impressed with her accomplishment.
Renzellis accomplishments inside and outside of the classroom also impressed the judges of USA Todays All-USA College Academic Team program, who awarded her an honorable mention. Undergrads named to the academic team not only challenge themselves to excel in their course work, but also extend their academic and broader intellectual abilities beyond the classroom to benefit their schools, their communities and society.
Renzelli said none of her achievements would have been possible without the support of WVU .
Im proud to share this award with a university that has backed me in every step of the process,she said.
During a recent forum on WVU s health-care impact, Renzelli recalled how she went from having little awareness of the world around her to tackling global health-care issues.
I couldnt have done it if I went to any other school,she said.Its because of the support of my friends hereof my friends on student government as wellthat Ive been able to do it and will continue. (More highlights on the Net:http://mikesnotes.blogs.wvu.edu/)
I would not have had the courage and skills necessary to take on such an endeavor without the knowledge Ive gained at WVU ,Renzelli added.At this university, I have learned to be a leader and that anything is possible if Im determined to succeed.
That courage also led Renzelli to help create a WVU branch of the Roosevelt Institution, a nonprofit, nonpartisan national network of student think tanks, and to intern at the Koch Foundation, an organization that supports research and education programs that analyze the impact of free societies.
Renzelli has also made her voice heard as the founder and president of Students Taking Action for Needed Change and the Ubuntu Project, a pen-pal program linking students in West Virginia with students in South Africa.
After reading an article on urban debate leagues last year, Renzelli, who has competed with the WVU Debate Team, wrote to The Washington Post, urging discussion of the need for such programs in rural areas. Her opinions can also be found on numerous blogs.