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ASU sociology senior awarded Millennium Fellowship

Kira Olsen-Medina painting a mural on a brick wall.

Kira Olsen-Medina paints a mural at the Good Things Grow Roosevelt School District Wellness Center in Phoenix.

August 24, 2018

This April, the United Nations Academic Impact and Millennium Campus Network launched the Millennium Fellowship. The selective fellowship is a semester-long leadership development program that convenes, challenges and celebrates student leadership for U.N. goals. Over three months, students applied from 285 campuses across 57 nations. Only 11 percent of the campuses were selected to host fellows in the global pilot this fall and Arizona State University was among them.

The Class of 2018 has just been announced. Five hundred and twenty-eight extraordinary Millennium Fellows have been selected on 30 campuses across 13 nations to participate this year. Leading campus cohorts have been selected from every region of the globe. From August through November, Millennium Fellows will take action to help make the Sustainable Development Goals and United Nations Academic Impact Principles a reality.  

Representing ASU’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics is sociology senior and Diversity and Inclusion Science Initiative (DISI) fellow Kira Olsen-Medina. Not only a first-generation college student, Olsen-Medina is also a first-generation American (her mother is an immigrant from Mexico). In addition to her course work here at ASU, she is currently working as a research assistant in two funded research projects — the Equity in Engineering Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, and the Teacher Experiences Across Subjects Project, funded by the Institute for Education Sciences, among many other on-campus initiatives. 

Receiving this fellowship and being among the outstanding cohort representing ASU is an incredible accomplishment.

“I congratulate Kira Olsen-Medina for her bold commitment to strengthen community and help make U.N. goals reality,” said Sam Vaghar, executive director and co-founder of the Millennium Campus Network.

Olsen-Medina's project, Engagement Through Art, includes two service projects with research and funding supported through the Sanford School’s DISI fellowship, with additional funding by the Civic Engagement Changemaker Grant from ASU.

Two service learning art projects will commence this fall with underserved youth populations to complete public murals, empowering students in Latino communities to promote social change and education through the arts.  

The service learning projects will be led by an international artist and educator, collaborating with the youth cohort to create a public mural in Phoenix and Havana. Due to the political climate in Cuba, the curriculum has been modified to focus mostly on higher education.

“Through service learning art projects, students will examine complex social inequalities and gain social-emotional competencies by community engagement and artistic expression,” Olsen-Medina said. “Building students' self-efficacy, the project’s framework focuses on the values of higher education, inclusion, and civic engagement.”

The project will begin with an educational workshop covering the history of murals throughout civilization and their significance for sharing ideas or making statements. A second workshop will facilitate a collaboration between students and the artist, giving the opportunity for students to have an active role in the design process. Lastly, the experience will end with a community paint day, where students are challenged to engage and lead within their community.

Qualitative and quantitative data will be collected from both project locations for a mixed-method analysis of the program's impact on participating youths. Also being evaluated will be personal growth from social-emotional learning skills achieved throughout the process, and self-efficacy gained through artistic expression and community engagement.

Collaborative organizations involved with the project include Aguila Leadership Institute in Phoenix and Amigo Skate Charity in Cuba.

Olsen-Medina will receive additional faculty support for her project as well — Stacie Foster from ASU's Sanford School will supervise her project.

“Kira is an amazing student who has a passion for working with underserved communities both in the U.S. and internationally," Foster said. "Her mural project is a terrific example of interdisciplinary work — merging art and sociology — to make a difference in the lives of youth in Phoenix and Cuba. We are so proud to have Kira representing our school.”

When the cohort begins, Olsen-Medina is looking forward to having opportunities to share ideas and learn from one another while comparing visions for the future.

“The best thing you can do is voice your ideas," she said. "There are tons of support mechanisms within the ASU community for social impact ideas. Talk to your professors, talk to your peers, visit changemaker central, you will find a large network of like-minded people seeking to make positive impacts on local and global levels.”

Upon graduation, Olsen-Medina aspires to attend graduate school and pursue a PhD in sociology. 

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