Gemechu Mekonnen, a second year student at the University of Minnesota, is a student leader who actively bridges the gap between the social and biological sciences. A double major in Genetics, Cell Biology and Development and Political Science, Mekonnen helps facilitate campus-wide conversations about politics as an opportunity for civic engagement and voting as a civic responsibility. Within the College of Biological Sciences, Mekonnen developed the CBS Democracy project to encourage students of the biological sciences to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Now that the election has passed, he is working to delve into deeper discussions surrounding policy and legislation in order to expand the scope and depth of political conversations among his biological sciences peers and across the university. Through this innovative interdisciplinary approach, he hopes to mobilize students to take action on issues that matter to them.
During the weeks leading up to the last presidential election, I had the distinct honor of working as a student representative for the CBS Democracy Project. The purpose of the project was to try increase civic participation of students in the College of Biological Science and also to try and explore what type of role students in the sciences could play in civil discourse. Whether that entails contributions to discussions on policy measures involving the Biology or simply going out to vote, the opportunities to take action are numerous. During my time in high school, I also had the opportunity to take part in the Youth in Government program organized by the YMCA and am returning as an adviser for this years session. These programs gave me the opportunity to simply listen and learn, and this is what I feel is missing from the country's national discourse now. There is far too often a jump to snap judgments and disdain for the experiences and potential expertise of others based on beliefs and outward appearances. By showing active and verbal appreciation for the viewpoints of others, innovative and inclusive policies can be created that can truly result in united progress.