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Yuliya Serdyuchenko (left), a graduate student in economics at Western Illinois University, attending a Q&A luncheon session with Former U.S. President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) Meeting. Serdyuchenko attended CGI U in April with two of her fellow international graduate students, Ali Salman al Hejji and Hanna Tedla.
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WIU graduate students in economics Yuliya Serdyuchenko (Ukraine), Hanna Tedla (Eritrea) and Ali Salman al Hejji (Saudi Arabia) all took part in a service project via the Clinton Global Initiative University at the San Diego Food Bank on Sunday, April 3. Pictured is: Serdyuchenko (left), a CGI U San Diego Food Bank representative, Hanna Tedla (second from right) and Ali Salman al Hejji (far right).
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Screenshot of a video recorded by WIU economics graduate student Ali Salman al Hejji (foreground), including Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and students who attended the Clinton Global Initiative University in April 2011.
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WIU graduate students in economics Ali Salman al Hejji (Saudi Arabia), Yuliya Serdyuchenko (Ukraine) and Hanna Tedla (Eritrea) at the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) Meeting in April 2011.
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Building Leadership Skills: WIU Int'l. Students Attend Clinton Global Initiative University

June 21, 2011

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MACOMB, IL -- For three Western Illinois University international students, a recent trip to San Diego offered more than just a trek to see the sites in the country in which they've chosen to pursue their higher education studies. For Yuliya Serdyuchenko, a graduate student in economics; Ali Salman al Hejji, who completed his coursework for his master's degree in economics in May; and Hanna Tedla, a graduate student in communication and economics, their journey certainly included taking in the scenery of another part of the U.S. But it also provided them with the chance to hone their leadership skills, as well as network with student leaders from around the world and even former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The Conference Commitment

During the spring semester, Serdyuchenko, al Hejji and Tedla were looking to attend a conference that involved both leadership and economics. Although they hail from different parts of the world -- al Hejji is from Saudi Arabia, Serdyuchenko is from Ukraine and Tedla is from Eritrea -- their common interest in economics and circumstance as international students at Western brought them together via their academic courses and activities sponsored by WIU's Center for International Studies.

"Yuliya found information about the Clinton Global Initiative University [CGI U], and she said that she thought we should apply to attend the CGI U Meeting," al Hejji said. "So we got together and found, through some of our research, that Pakistan still has a very high percentage of kids who suffer from polio. We decided we wanted to do something to increase awareness of the disease there, and so we put together our commitment to action project, 'Free Polio Vaccinations for Children in Pakistan.' We applied and our commitment was accepted."

According to the CGI U website, the meeting organizers are looking for "creative commitment ideas with concrete, detailed plans of action and passion and energy for a global issue." The site explains that the "commitment to action" projects are "a specific plan of action that addresses a pressing challenge on [the students'] campus, in their community or in a different part of the world." It also notes that CGI U is built on the "successful model of the Clinton Global Initiative, which brings together world leaders to take action on global challenges. President Clinton launched the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world."

Serdyuchenko explained that CGI U commitments to action address the "urgent problems of mankind," based on five focus areas, including education; environment and climate change; peace and human rights; poverty alleviation; and public health. She noted that attendance at the conference prepares the student leaders to implement their projects that will help humankind, as well as builds their leadership and organizational skills overall.

"Our working group reiterates that the decrease of polio-infected children in Pakistan, along with the eradication of the polio virus in the world, will result in the reduction of the mortality rate of children worldwide. During the conference, we took part in working sessions and skill-building workshops, and we interacted with experts, student activists and heads of leading non-governmental organizations from around the world," Serdyuchenko said.

One of the experts that Serdyuchenko, al Hejji and Tedla had the opportunity to hear speak included former U.S. President Bill Clinton, during a lunch that was organized especially for the international students who attended the 2011 CGI U.

"During the question-and-answer session with President Clinton, we were able to gain a lot from his expertise," Tedla explained. "Although the discussions mainly revolved around the five focus areas, President Clinton also covered political and policy issues that we might encounter and that seemed to be a concern for a lot of the participants. This luncheon gave us a clear idea of what is expected of us and what a great task lies ahead of us."

Reaping Rewards

Although they are separated for the summer completing internships, Serdyuchenko, al Hejji and Tedla are communicating via text and email to continue their work on their commitment to action "Free Polio Vaccinations for Children in Pakistan" project. In addition to the training they received at the event, CGI U provides them with a detailed 16-page "Commitments Guide" that helps them implement and accomplish their plan.

"Currently, we're looking for sponsors, such as medical companies, to help us fund polio vaccinations in Pakistan," al Hejji explained. "We hope to be working along with the health ministry there, too, to help implement our commitment."

Serdyuchenko added that she is looking forward to presenting the results of their project at CGI U in 2012 and that she knows her experiences at this year's meeting provided her with important skills and will continue to provide her with professional benefits down the road. She said she found attending the conference to be personally rewarding, too.

"On the last day of CGI U, we took part in the CGI U service project, which enabled student attendees to give back to the greater San Diego community. We volunteered to help the staff of the San Diego Food Bank and we distributed food to needy families," she noted.

And while al Hejji will have completed his time at WIU after he concludes his internship in July and he'll be moving on to find employment either in the U.S., in Saudi Arabia or somewhere else abroad, his work with Serdyuchenko and Tedla on the project will also help him stay close to WIU -- not that he would necessarily need their project to feel connected, however. During his five years in Macomb (al Hejji also earned his bachelor's degree in economics from Western), he has personally recruited his cousin, his sister and her husband to attend Western.

"Now Macomb is a second home. It and WIU are going to be part of me forever," al Hejji said. "My time at Western provided me with a great chance to express myself and get involved. The Center for International Studies always gave me support with all of my academic needs, as well as with activities. Staff there helped acquaint me with the resources I needed at WIU and helped me get acclimated to campus. I was involved in the Student Government Association, representing the international students, and I also joined the international business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi. I also became a member of the International Friendship Club here. There are a lot of things to do at Western besides just concentrating on academic achievement. It's a really good school. I wish I could stay longer, but it's time to go out into the world."

For more information about WIU's Center for International Studies, contact Kevin Timlin, assistant director, at (309) 298-2485 or Learn more about WIU's Center for International Studies at Read more about CGI U at

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (
Office of University Communications & Marketing