Wilkes University Honors Program Students Attend International Conference In Vietnam
Four students from Wilkes University’s honors program recently had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit Hanoi, Vietnam, to learn about making positive transformations in small communities. The students attended the University Scholars Leadership Symposium, an international conference intended to raise global awareness of disenfranchised communities. The event was held from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7, 2016.
The weeklong symposium gathers exceptional people from around the world to participate in hands-on, experiential learning with marginalized communities.
More than 700 students from 69 different countries attended the symposium themed, “Inspiring Individuals, Transforming Communities.” Sessions covered humanitarian issues like human trafficking and refuge crises with speakers from NGOs, the United Nations and university faculty. Wilkes students had an opportunity to interact with locals, visit a war museum and discuss the effects of agent orange with veterans, visit a leprosy hospital and present books to children in a local elementary school.
Marketing major Patrice Lonardi said attending the conference was a life-changing experience.
“Traveling to Vietnam and attending the symposium has changed my perspective of human life and the world. It has opened my eyes to the inevitable need for humanitarians everywhere,” Lonardi said. “I cannot express how honored I was to have been a representative of our college and our country.”
Other Wilkes honors program students attending the conference with Lonardi were Dhruv Patel, pre-med and biology major; Dillon Davis, biology major; and Faith Banca, psychology major. All four are sophomores. The trip was funded in part by Wilkes University’s Mentoring Grants.
Mark Allen, Wilkes’ dean of students and director of the honors program, selected the student delegates according to interest. Allen said the symposium experience fit one of the honor’s program’s core values – leadership. He said the students were eager to take advantage of the experience. “I was particularly proud of our sophomore level students who were quick to engage with other students on substantive issues such as the refuge crisis and human trafficking,” Allen said.
Pre-med student Dhruv Patel was particularly moved by this volunteer experience. “When we volunteered at Hòa Banh Province, it was inspiring to see students from all around the world aide the village in [the villagers] daily activities and understand the handwork they go through every day,” Patel said. “Just the sight of [the villagers] made me appreciate life more, and encourage myself to help those who are less fortunate a little more.”
Speakers at the conference were also a source of inspiration. The most memorable speaker for psychology major Faith Banca was David Begbie, senior spokesman for Crossroads Foundation, a Hong Kong-based humanitarian aid organization. Begbie said, “So many people come up to me and say, ‘I want to change the world but I'm not big enough.’ Maybe that is not the right question, maybe the question is: Who are you? Where do you sit, what needs are before you, what opportunities are around you, and how--as us--can we make this world change?" His words left Banca with “ a lingering feeling of a need to make change.”
“I plan to make a move towards building humanitarian leadership in our Wilkes community and help us make a change as a school,“ she said.
About Wilkes University’s Honors Program:
The Wilkes University Honors Program offers bright, ambitious students an enhanced and interdisciplinary academic experience. Selected students from across Wilkes majors take part in honors classes and extracurricular activities designed to increase intellectual, professional and personal achievement. Honors students reside in a living-learning community. Benefits include an annual academic enrichment grant, unique in higher education, which students can use to help fund study-related expenses such as travel or technology.