A double major in genetics, cell biology and development and political science, Gemechu Mekonnen is the University’s 2017 Newman Civic Fellowship nominee, a national award sponsored by Campus Compact that supports community-committed University students who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions to community challenges. The one-year fellowship brings these outstanding student problem-solvers together in a national network focused on to making positive change across the country.
Mekonnen credits his nomination to Kristin Economos, CBS’s coordinator for student engagement. In addition to mentoring him in the college’s Dean Scholar’s Program, she recommended that Mekonnen attend the Kente Summit for Collegiate Black Men, where he met with other publicly-engaged student leaders of African descent from diverse academic majors and backgrounds. The interdisciplinary nature of the summit inspired him to expand his own studies by combining his love of science with his desire to affect campus political climate.
Last fall, Mekonnen led CBS’s Democracy Project which encouraged University students of all political persuasions to vote in the November elections. As the project’s student ambassador, he helped facilitate conversations about voting as a civic responsibility. Rather than seeking partisan outcomes, he says, “I wanted to avoid the echo chamber that we fall into in academia. Most of us don’t realize our perspectives are skewed, so my goal was to get as many people to vote as possible, regardless of their views.”
Currently, Mekonnen works as a student assistant in the Medical School for a project on substance abuse in Minneapolis’ East African communities and as a researcher for the Law School’s Assistant Professor Cossette Creamer in her work examining recent executive orders and international law.
Mekonnen believes the Newman fellowship would provide him with more opportunities to partner with University and community leaders. “I’m inspired to build on the work of engaged researchers, educators, and professionals I meet, and the Newman fellowship would give me access to a vast network of those people,” he said.