Students Fired Up by Human Development Conference

Anna Kottkamp, Ilse Zenteno, and Jenna Gill-Wiehl • March 6, 2014

HDCThis year’s Human Development Conference (HDC), “Transforming Development: New Actors, Innovative Technologies & Emerging Trends,” delved into the groundbreaking fieldwork and research being done by undergraduates from all over the country and across the world as they explore the multidisciplinary and ever-evolving process of development.

Entirely student led, the conference took shape thanks to the hard work of the organizing committee led by seniors John Gibbons and Eddie Linczer.

“The panel discussions continued into the breaks and will hopefully keep going, even outside of the conference,” said Gibbons. “Our goal was to give people the opportunity to form connections with others interested in international development. I think we did that.”

The atmosphere of the conference sparked riveting discussions between presenters and attendees.

“I love when people tell stories about what gets them fired up, and it is even more inspiring with first-hand stories,” noted Erik Jensen ’14. Providing a platform to exchange ideas and spark dialogue, the HDC created an open space to freely discuss development issues with similarly passionate young people.

“Despite everyone's differences—where they went to school, their place of research, or field of study—we all invested our mental and emotional energy into tackling questions plaguing our transforming world,” said Megan Reineccius ’14. “It was this shared curiosity and belief in change that made me feel right at home.”

HDCThe conference hosted more than 200 people over the conference weekend. Over 60 students from all over the world presented their own research on development-related topics, conducted in more than 25 countries. Research presentations ranged from the emerging permaculture-food system in Holland, the role of Chile’s government in health education, to the development of a business skills training program in Uganda.

“I learned a lot and left the conference very inspired to keep learning about development and pursue my interests to hopefully contribute to the field,” said Kaitlin Thompson of Villanova University, who presented on the gender wage gap in Chile. 

Special events included a showing of the documentary When China Met Africa, and a photo contest during which pictures from the field were displayed and judged by their quality and relevance to the conference theme.

Keynote speaker Mireille Cronin Mather, Executive Director of the Foundation for Sustainable Development, addressed the student participants at the closing dinner. Mather emphasized the importance of espousing a community-based approach, in which no voice is neglected.

“No one ever asked us before,” her six-word memoir, emphasizes the importance of local input in development efforts.

Held February 28 and March 1, the 6th annual Human Development Conference at the University of Notre Dame was hosted by the Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity at Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

The conference was cosponsored by Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns and Office of Sustainability and SIT Study Abroad, a program of World Learning. The majority of student research presented was facilitated by conference sponsors. The HDC was a certified “green conference” in partnership with Notre Dame’s Office of Sustainability.