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“I felt that, for the first time, I had stepped out of my role as a student and became a significant citizen of the world.”

Since undergoing our digital transformation last year, we have had the pleasure of organizing six successful Virtual CAS Conferences. Focused on giving students the opportunity to address global issues, facilitate authentic service, and harness international-mindedness from home, our conference structure is built on fulfilling the 7 Learning Outcomes and encouraging collaboration between students and global organizations as they work through the CAS Stages in a Charity Hackathon.

Set over two days, we have carefully formatted the conferences to allow plenty of time for connection, discussion, and, of course, problem-solving. Each event begins with a dynamic keynote speaker that sets the tone for the conference and kickstarts conversation and collaboration among students. Working with international organizations to address global issues and inspire collaboration, we then transition into the Hackathon component of the weekend, where students have the chance to truly work together and contribute to a brighter and more sustainable future for all

The goal of the Hackathon is to develop a long-term solution-focused Service Project in response to a charity’s urgent, authentic need. As we have come to expect, students were more than prepared to rise to the occasion and produced projects that were nothing short of astounding! That is why we were thrilled to welcome one of our Virtual CAS Conference winners, María José Vega Pardo, to the CAS team as an intern this summer. 

Here, María shares what it was like to collaborate with a team of international students, where her group’s project is at now, and how the conference has further inspired her commitment to the global management of climate change. 

We are so glad to have you on the team, María! Can you take us back to where you were before you joined the Climate Change VCC in November of last year?

Before attending the VCC, I had just recently been introduced to CAS as I had only been completing the IB since August of that year. I was still navigating the ways I could complete CAS through work I enjoyed and provided me with a channel to contribute to hands-on explorations of global issues. 

So, when I received an email from my school’s CAS coordinator detailing what the climate change VCC would entail and how it could be used as part of my CAS folder, I grabbed the only spot my school was offering free of charge. I have always been passionate about the global management of climate change. Seeing as how this would be an international event, I was eager to get involved in a diverse discussion surrounding climate change and with other international students.

That is fantastic! What were you initially expecting from the VCC, and how did the experience itself compare?

I was initially impressed by the calibre of guests present at the event, including guest speakers from the United Nations and Extinction Rebellion—which are front runners in the fight for larger action to be taken globally towards the climate crisis. 

Although I was tremendously excited to listen and take note regarding their perspectives and what punctual action must be taken, I did not expect the opportunity to engage so deeply with the speakers themselves. Being able to partake in a direct conversation with these esteemed individuals made the experience much more personal and memorable. 

María talks about her VCC experience. 

It clearly left you feeling inspired to tackle the Hackathon component of the conference, too. Can you provide a brief online of your team’s project and the process you used to develop it?

During the second day of the conference, our team chose to pursue the proposal of creating personalized handbooks for the farmers of the Peruvian Andes Mountains. This was intended to provide them with the necessary measures to develop sustainable farming practices like Agroecology and Biointensive farming that the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development (AASD) has been constructing for them. We felt these handbooks could serve as guides that would allow progress in times such as the Covid-19 pandemic when communication is not accessible. 

After we were given a chance to develop our project, we worked closely with Jolyn Rekasis, one of the representatives of the AASD, to build our ideas offline while simultaneously getting the chance to receive constant feedback. To do so, we had periodic meetings every few weeks but constantly worked through a Google document that allowed all of the team members to input their work. Once we had finished our research, we created a handbook template and gradually passed our research into a well-formatted and organized manual. 

It must have been a very gratifying experience to be able to bring your project to life. How did it feel to be selected as the winner?

It was not something I was expecting; having had most of the last day to collaborate with my teammates—who began as other students and quickly became friends—this was a very wholesome closure for me to the event. Not only was I excited for the chance to further interact with my teammates, but I felt that, for the first time, I had stepped out of my role as a student and became a significant citizen of the world.   

What has been the most rewarding part of seeing your vision brought to life? 

Coming from a Southern American country and growing up in contact with Colombian farmers—who have a singular spirit and passion for the work they’ve grown up performing—the fulfillment of this project has allowed me to express my admiration and fondness for traditional Southern American practices. I hope this project can be a tool for farmers beyond the Peruvian Andes Mountains and can aid in keeping these practices as efficient and alive as they’ve been for centuries. 

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your Virtual CAS Conference experience?

Not only has the VCC allowed me to further forge a connection with my native roots, it has also extended my ability to adapt outside of school settings. The development of this project has opened many doors for me both through the network I’ve been able to develop and the variety of unfamiliar situations it has exposed me to. It has led to significant growth in my ability to engage in our globalized world and has given me an advanced glance into the fields of work I hope to pursue later in life. I am beyond grateful to the CAS Trips team and the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development for introducing me to the immense opportunities present for open-minded and globalized students. 

A huge thank you to María for sharing her experience! For our next conference series, taking place this fall, we are tackling the very pressing topic of mental health. Students will have the opportunity to explore this vital issue through discussion, learning, and advocating for change. 

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