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Ashoka U Exchange 2019 at UC San Diego

More than 700 were in attendance for the Ashoka U Exchange, which focused on the many ways positive change can be made in the world.

Ashoka U Exchange Draws Attendees from 25 Countries to UC San Diego

Attendees discussed going “Beyond Borders and Boundaries” to make positive change

Hundreds of delegates from 25 different countries converged on campus last week for the 2019 Ashoka U Exchange to discuss how to more effectively make positive change around the globe. UC San Diego hosted this year’s Exchange, themed “Beyond Borders and Boundaries,” from Feb. 21 through 23. The annual conference is organized by Ashoka, the world’s largest network of entrepreneurs focused on social innovation and changemaking. UC San Diego has been a designated Ashoka Changemaker Campus since 2017.

The three-day event featured 75 sessions and more than 200 speakers on topics ranging from bridging theory and practice to create social good to how empathy is the essential element in leading positive social change. Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla welcomed attendees to San Diego as part of the event’s keynote address entitled “Welcome Change: Changemaker Movements.”

“We are thrilled to be hosting this year’s Ashoka U Exchange,” said Chancellor Khosla. “We are very proud to be part of the Changemaker Campus Network. Our Changemaker designation has inspired the entire campus community to strengthen our collaborations to make a real difference on our campus, in our community and around the globe.”

Chancellor Khosla speaking at Ashoka U Exchange

Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla welcomed visitors from 25 countries to San Diego as part of the Ashoka U Exchange.

Khosla also shared that UC San Diego is establishing ambitious changemaking goals for the campus’ academic and co-curricular offerings, elevating the visibility of changemaking programs and faculty research, and establishing spaces for student changemaker collaborations through the UC San Diego’s Center for Student Involvement and Teaching + Learning Commons.

UC San Diego faculty and staff participated in multiple sessions, highlighting just some of the many changemaking research activities and programs taking place on campus.

UC San Diego hosted a site visit to the Nutrition Kitchen Project at Baker Elementary School, which was started by UC San Diego medical students seeking to address the need for healthy diet options, due to high numbers of patients struggling with diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Partnering with members of the community, the Nutrition Kitchen Project holds cooking and nutrition classes twice a month for UC San Diego Student-Run Free Clinic patients and their families. UC San Diego’s director of medical student education and founder of the Student-Run Free Clinic, Ellen Beck, also spoke as part of a panel on “How Do We Prioritize Health for Better Outcomes.”

Another session, “What's Really Going on at the Border,” focused on the reality of life along the U.S.-Mexico border in the San Diego-Tijuana region. Speakers—many from UC San Diego—provided information from medical, environmental and humanitarian perspectives. Mandy Bratton, director of the Jacobs School of Engineering’s Global Ties program who also served on this year’s Ashoka U Exchange Agenda Council, moderated the panel.

In addition to discussions by medical doctors, engineers and social scientists on the current immigration situation at the border, Oscar Romo, an Ashoka Fellow, founder of AlterTerra and a past lecturer in UC San Diego’s Urban Studies and Planning Program, spoke on the environment spanning both sides of the border. What is done on one side of the border affects both sides, according to Romo.

“I work on both sides of the border. One foot is in Mexico and the other is in the U.S.,” he said. “When my left foot is in Mexico, I’m looking at the ocean making sure that it’s clean. When it’s the opposite, I look into the dry land to make sure pollution, plastic and trash don’t reach the ocean.”

Romo upcycles trash and waste into art—like a map made of 3,500 plastic bottles featured in the San Diego Airport, representative of the number of plastic bottles thrown away every second in the U.S. He also repurposes waste for scientific pieces—like the 3D presentation of atmosphere rivers that will be displayed at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography—and usable structures—like old tires repurposed in a community center.

Romo and his students also conduct research to understand where trash is coming from, and where it is flowing to, with a goal of educating decision makers and communicating the impacts of waste to the communities on both sides of the border.

After the three-day Exchange, attendees said that they left inspired and ready to drive more positive change in the world.

“The Ashoka U Exchange conference is a different type of conference than those we in higher education often attend,” said Wendy Hunter Barker, assistant dean at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. “Faculty, students and administrators are brought together on equal footing to think creatively and explore ways we can work together to create a culture of changemaking for our campuses. It is invigorating and inspiring; you leave with both your mind and soul energized and ready to get to work.”