UNION, NJ – Kean University on Friday announced that three student groups will attend the ninth-annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), hosted by President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton at the University of California, Berkeley, from April 1-3.  

Seven students will share their innovative solutions to global and community problems and seek funding to further their ideas. Their student-led projects are the Vertical Gardens Initiative from Be the Change at Kean University, Let’s Go Bigger from the Department of Occupational Therapy, and the Organic Multicultural Vegetable Garden from the School of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences (SESS).  ​

Sarah Khalil of Piscataway is attending CGI U as a member of the SESS Organic Multicultural Vegetable Garden team.​

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Be the Change has the distinction of attending CGI U for a second straight year and has been given the added opportunity to present at the CGI U Exchange and Dinner Saturday, April 2. 

“We educate the leaders of tomorrow at Kean University,” said Kean President Dawood Farahi, Ph.D. “However, having three separate student groups representing Kean at Clinton Global Initiative University shows that our students are already proving themselves as leaders on the global stage.”

The Kean students attending the conference, accompanied by faculty advisor Norma Bowe, Ph.D., will be among more than 1,000 student leaders who made Commitments to Action through CGI U. Through their initiatives, the Kean students will pledge to tackle the issues of poverty alleviation, public health, and environment and climate change, three of CGI U’s five focus areas, which also include education, and peace and human rights.

Be the Change at Kean University fosters peace and hunger relief in communities through gardening. Starting first with “peace gardens” in Newark, the group then turned its attention to global needs. Last year, Be the Change shipped a freestanding vertical garden to a refugee camp in Kosovo after attending CGI U, and this year the group will seek funding for its Vertical Garden Initiative to create a more cost-effective, light-weight garden that can be shipped to refugee camps or communities in need anywhere in the world.

“We are very excited to be going back to CGI U for the second year in a row,” said graduate student Jillian Mahon of Bridgewater​.  “We plan to build on our experience in addressing food deserts and social justice in Newark, New Jersey and Kosovo by committing this year to include a new vertical garden design to be shipped and used by Syrian refugees in Greece.”

Let’s Go Bigger from Kean’s Department of Occupational Therapy is a community mobility program designed to improve the health and wellbeing of senior citizens. The students are attending CGI U to expand a successful program that they ran in seven senior housing facilities in Rahway, Linden and Trenton, New Jersey that assisted older adults in getting out of their homes and into the community to engage in meaningful activities. Participants reported sustained physical, psychological and social benefits of increased involvement in their communities.

“One of the participants, who uses a powerchair, never ventured beyond her immediate neighborhood,” said Chrissy Papetti of Randolph, an OT student who participated in Let’s Go. “We were able to support her in getting on and off the public bus system to visit the local farmers’ market. The Let’s Goprogram makes a difference in the daily lives of older adults.”

The Organic Multicultural Vegetable Garden from SESS is envisioned as a place for elementary and high school students to make cultural and environmental connections through gardening. SESS students will grow vegetables from diverse cultures, with the compost produced from food waste on Kean's campus, and teach local students about farming, sustainability and diversity at the garden, which will be located at Liberty Hall Farm at Kean University. The harvested produce will be donated to local food banks. The team hopes that, through CGI U collaboration, it can establish gardens in high schools and universities with diverse cultures and students.

"Kean University embraces and welcomes all cultural backgrounds and this project continues that practice. We want to help local immigrant and refugee families to transition smoothly and have a sense of belonging,” said Jessica Frago of Jersey City​, a sustainability major at SESS. “Farming vegetables from a variety of cultures is one way of doing that. The students will be part of something meaningful as they learn about sustainable farming."

To augment the support they are receiving from the University, the students have started a Go Fund Me page to raise money for living expenses while attending the conference. 


The Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), a program of the Clinton Global Initiative, brings together college students to address global challenges with practical, innovative solutions. CGI U participants do more than simply discuss problems – they take concrete steps to solve them by creating action plans, building relationships, participating in hands-on workshops, and following up with CGI U as they complete their projects. Since 2008, students have made more than 5,500 Commitments to Action. Previous CGI U meetings have taken place at Tulane University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Miami, the University of California at San Diego, the George Washington University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Arizona State University, and have convened more than 7,500 students from over 925 schools, 145 countries, and all 50 states. To learn more, visit cgiu.org.


Founded in 1855, Kean University has become one of the largest metropolitan institutions of higher education in the region, with a richly diverse student, faculty and staff population. Kean continues to play a key role in the training of teachers and is a hub of educational, technological and cultural enrichment serving nearly 15,000 students. The Nathan Weiss Graduate College offers four doctorate degree programs and more than 60 options for graduate study leading to master’s degrees, professional diplomas or certifications. The University’s six undergraduate colleges offer 50 undergraduate degrees over a full range of academic subjects. With campuses in Union and Toms River, New Jersey, and Wenzhou, China, Kean University furthers its mission by providing an affordable, accessible and world-class education. See Where A World-Class Education Takes You. Visit Kean online at www.kean.edu.