USAP Forum 2012 Recap

"Passion is what drives us but patience is what keeps us going." - Tendekai Muchenje, USAP Forum 2012 Innovation panel

The annual USAP forum, arguably the most anticipated USAP event of the year, was held at the University of Chicago from the 29th of June to the 2nd of July. Hosted under the theme "USAP in the Era of Innovation", the forum was groundbreaking in many respects. This was the first time that the forum had been hosted in the US Midwest, after being held almost exclusively on the East Coast in the previous years.

Building on the successful launch of USAP career interest groups at the 2011 Forum at Yale University, the 2012 forum sought to take the conversation about careers further by putting it in the context of innovation and entrepreneurship. An added dimension of the conversation was how USAP students could incorporate these two principles in their calling as makers of change in their respective communities. In a world of start-ups, where innovation and entrepreneurship are more than just buzzwords, how does USAP reinvent itself and produce students who are ever eager to break conventional career boundaries? After a three-day forum filled with inspiring stories and engaging discussions and debate, it was clear that the spirit of innovation was very much alive in the USAP family.

Rovana Popoff, deputy Dean of students in the college at the University of Chicago, opened the forum on Saturday morning with welcome remarks. She drew comparisons between the values shared by both the University of Chicago and USAP students, such as commitment to intellectual rigor, free inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge beneficial to society.

Bruce Wharton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy in the US State department and US ambassador designate to Zimbabwe, delivered the first keynote address of the forum. Bruce spoke about the State department's efforts to engage young people all over the world and have them engage in positive conversations that lead to the betterment of their societies. He also asked for the students' input on ways that the State department could better serve them. Some students expressed frustration at stringent visa regulations that made it difficult for them to carry out projects in their home countries.

After the keynote address there were three simultaneous information sessions and panels forum participants could choose from. One panel was about the process of getting into business school and the value of an MBA degree. USAP students who have received MBA degrees from top-notch business schools led this panel. The other panel brought together education advisers and students to discuss and share the experiences of international students as well as the challenges they faced. Yet another panel walked the students through various immigration regulations affecting international students.

Dr Funmi Olopade, Professor of Human genetics and Medicine and Director of the Global Health Initiative at the University of Chicago, gave the day's second keynote address of the day. She shared her experiences of growing up in Nigeria as well as her student activism against apartheid while in medical school in Nigeria. She challenged USAP students and other young people to find causes to champion. She also addressed the challenge of navigating between the US as an adopted home and students' respective home countries. Of particular importance was the question whether students could contribute more to their societies by establishing careers in the US and other countries as opposed to being on the ground in their home countries.

After the keynote address by Dr Funmi Olopade, forum participants broke out into various career interest groups where they brainstormed on ways to incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship in their chosen career paths and how to challenge themselves to rethink the scope and nature on their career paths. After everyone had reconvened representatives from the interest groups gave reports on the ideas they had come up in their smaller groups. The forum programming for the day ended with the USAP world cup soccer game and a formal fundraising dinner for USAP Cares.

The forum opened on Sunday with an update from USAP founder Rebecca Ziegler-Mano followed by USAP country updates. Clara Priester, Regional coordinator of educational advising in Eastern and Southern Africa also shared some success stories in educational advising in the Africa region.

Following the country and regional updates was the innovation panel that featured USAP students and other invited speakers who are innovators and entrepreneurs in various fields. On the panel was Kuda Biza of AFR clothing, a social entrepreneurship venture that uses proceeds from t-shirt sales to donate to various charities across Africa. Tendekai Muchenje of 6tm Solutions shared his experiences of starting up a tech company in the Silicon Valley and venturing into producing products relevant for his native Zimbabwe. USAP "artist in residence" Clyde Bango talked about his experiences as a Biochemistry and Art major and having to convince his parents that art was a discipline worth pursuing. Simba Mhungu of Harvest Fresh shared his experiences of starting an agro-processing firm in Zimbabwe, and the risk taking involved, and challenged USAP students to look for opportunities in various sectors in their home countries. Fanele Chester talked about her website and blog that celebrates African achievement and provides commentary on business and development issues.

The last panel of the day was a discussion on the KONY 2012 campaign that was moderated by Sam Kitara from USAP Uganda and Henry Dambanemuya who is a student advocate of social justice issues at Depaul University. The discussion centered on social media and its power as an agent of change as well as the controversy surround the Kony campaign. The Kony discussion was followed by a forum debrief in which students discussed ways to have even greater participation in future forums. To cap off a great weekend was the ever-popular USAP talent show, which featured musical performances, dances and spoken word presentations. The highlight of the talent show was the education advisors performing a Brazilian samba dance.