Over the weekend, 60 students from universities all over Shanghai participated in the inaugural Sila Connection Shanghai conference. Held at NYU Shanghai, the conference was a competition that gave students the opportunity to solve “global issues, by going local”.

Sila Connection was founded at NYU Abu Dhabi in 2012, as a way for NYUAD students to make a positive impact on the community. Since 2012, the organization has moved to both New York and Shanghai portal campuses, and hopefully will move to the rest of the Global Network University sites in the future. All conference topics involve aspects of the environment: including waste, sustainable development, and Abu Dhabi’s 2030 urban development goal.

This year, Sila Shanghai had to create solutions to Shanghai’s very prominent issue of air pollution. In groups of five, students had to devise a sustainable, feasible and practical solution that promoted awareness and would reduce air pollution on a smaller scale. The winners of the competition were to be awarded 2,500 USD to fund their project

Applicants were notified of their acceptance to the 2014 Sila Conference about two weeks ago, and from there, were randomly assigned into groups. The groups were included both NYU Shanghai students, and students from universities such as Fudan University (复旦大学) and Jiaotong University (交通大学).

The conference officially started on Friday afternoon, as team members gathered for the first time and got to know each other. Teams also got a chance to listen to NYU Shanghai professor Clay Shirky talk about the way in which individuals, in particularly in Shanghai, respond to the issues of air pollution.

On Saturday morning, teams were officially allowed to start working on their projects. Given three ‘project sessions’, the teams had to compile a mission, a name for their project or organization, a specific plan, and a budget.

In addition to this, the groups were also given advice from a panel of speakers, which was made up of environmental specialists, researchers and scientists working at universities in Shanghai. Throughout the day, all groups had the opportunity to ask for advice from NYUSH’s own Global Academic Fellow Maxi-Ann Campbell and Global Leadership Fellows Kyle Rothstein and Jeremy Hissong.

Sunday morning kicked off with a talk from Yimo Zhang, Manager of Strategic Development at the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), who described the ways in which air pollution affects the environment on a wider scale.

Delegates were then given a 12:30 p.m. deadline, by which all groups were expected to have uploaded a budget and a summary of their project. The teams were then given the opportunity to sell their ideas and solutions to four judges, including NYUSH Dean of Students Charlene Visconti and Eddie Hsu, a lawyer for Dentons Law Firm and NYU alum.

By 4 p.m., the winners were announced. For the first time, there were two clear winners. The first solution involved testing the air quality of Shanghai metro stations and making this information clearer to the general public and provide governments with respective advice on how to deal with this issue. The second solution involved the problem of ‘heat island’ (where an urban area is significantly hotter due to human activities) by creating rooftop gardens on the top of factories in and around Shanghai.

Overall, the delegates’ minds were put to the test, and it gave passionate students a chance to learn more about how air pollution is currently affecting Shanghai. Sophomore Spongebob Luo was extremely happy that Sila brought this event to Shanghai, stating, “It was an opportunity for me to collaborate with other people and it is an opportunity, apart from in-class discussions, to talk about air pollution and environmental protection.”

Director of Sila Connection Shanghai and NYUSH Resident Assistant, Noel Konagai was relieved and very proud with how the event turned out, after thirteen months of organization and planning. “We had a lot of ups and downs, and sometimes we thought that the conference wasn’t going to happen. But when the two winning projects were announced we were really happy. That meant to us that the project ideas were so excellent that the judges could not unanimously decide to sponsor only one project. I had to hold myself back from crying out of joy when I announced that the conference officially ended.”

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This article was written by Isabella Farr. Send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Kadallah Burrowes

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