Members of the 2018-2019 Global Leadership Initiative Executive Board are responsible for overseeing the projects of the program’s cohort and ensuring that the group is able to bridge the gaps between different groups of students at Ohio State. Credit: Courtesy of Alec Koppes

Never having left the confines of his small hometown in Plain City, Ohio, Alec Koppes decided to do something about his lack of perspective. His solution: submitting an application to join Ohio State’s Global Leadership Initiative.

Global Leadership Initiative is a one-year program at Ohio State that focuses on increasing awareness of cultural diversity and eliminating the barriers between various cultural communities both on and off campus.

“I realized how big the world was in one sense and how many vastly different perspectives and experiences people bring, but also how interconnected and how small it is as well,” Koppes, a fourth-year in finance and world politics, as well as vice president of external communications for GLI, said. “You have these dual pictures of a really big world, yet we have so much in common.”

The program was founded in 2013 to bridge the gap between international and domestic students, along with the gap between campus and the Columbus community. Members attend weekly meetings and are divided into different project groups, such as feminism, environment, or culture and religion to organize events to raise awareness surrounding each topic.

Kusha Ansari, a fourth-year in mechanical engineering as well as vice president of internal communications for GLI, said that with a campus as large as Ohio State, it’s not always easy to branch out of your comfort zone and interact with students from different backgrounds.

“I think, naturally, it’s human tendency to try to gravitate toward what’s familiar,” Ansari said.

In order to foster an inclusive environment where a diverse group of people are comfortable discussing their experiences and backgrounds, GLI admits only 24 students every year. Ansari said this small community provides a level of intimacy that Ohio State as a whole might not.

Ansari said that GLI holds events throughout the year that encourage students to be courageous and engage in dialogue with people from different cultural backgrounds.

“Perhaps we do want to learn about other cultures, but when you go to those other cultural events such as the Malaysian culture show or the Korean culture show, you can feel immediately out of place,” Ansari said. “So we want to encourage people that it’s OK to be adventurous and put yourself out there and get out of your comfort zone.”

To ensure that students are more connected with the off-campus world, GLI requires that all of its events be held at a community site in Columbus.

Speakers from various Columbus organizations who are committed to furthering cultural diversity are often invited to share the missions of their organizations and raise awareness about topics that might otherwise not be discussed in an everyday setting.

Hadhirah Tahir, a third-year in finance as well as vice president of public relations for GLI, said that at a GLI event, she was able to see past the issues that impact her as a Malaysian student.

“Coming from Malaysia, the whole Mexico issue with the U.S. is definitely not something I’ve been aware of, and it was really interesting and eye-opening for me,” Tahir said.

Additionally, Ansari said that GLI hosts networking events where students can speak with members of the Columbus community to understand there are no limits to what they can do despite the barriers they may face as a minority.

“The networking aspect of being able to see these individuals within a mile radius on campus from the Columbus community that have achieved success despite different types of adversity — that’s been very inspiring,” Ansari said.

By providing Ohio State students with the opportunity to learn about the experiences of other students who might come from different countries, Koppes said GLI is ultimately encouraging students to become global citizens.

“We’re a globally connected world,” Koppes said. “One of the key aspects of our program is developing global citizens — so people not just thinking as an American, as a Chinese student, as a Malaysian — but more broadly as a global citizen.”

Diverging from the narrow perspective of his hometown, Koppes said being a part of GLI has strengthened his emotional intelligence and ability to empathize with different groups of people.

“When you learn from other people’s experiences and see their perspectives, you grow,” Koppes said.