An intensive immersion into humanity’s most pressing and daunting problems has the potential to be demoralizing. For Furman senior McKenna Luzynski, however, last month’s UNA-USA Global Engagement Summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York City was validating.
Luzynski was one of a group of four Furman students who attended the one-day conference on Feb. 23. She participated in sessions on climate change, issues facing the U.N., human rights and the global refugee crisis, and by the time the long day was over the public health and Spanish double major was more sure than ever she wants to be one of those experts she saw working to make a better world.
“This just reaffirms that’s the field that I want to be in,” Luzynski, who will begin pursuing a master’s degree in public health next year at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says. “It is a very specialized school, but I will be taking some really interesting classes on conflict and health and environment and sustainable development and figuring out how we can conserve our natural resources while also furthering the development of our world. That’s really what the sustainable goals are all about. Afterward, I am looking to get my Ph.D.”
Joining Luzynski in New York were Christy Litz ’20, Johnpaul Sleiman ’21 and Grace Marmaras ’20. Litz is a biology major with a minor in medicine, health and culture, and like Luzysnski, she left the conference inspired.
“I am pre-med, so if I stay on this track it has solidified my desire to do something with an agency that reaches out to war-torn areas and under-privileged areas,” she says. “It frustrates me that people are so complacent. This experience spoke to me on getting people to do something, going from words and rhetoric to action.”
The whirlwind trip, which saw the students fly out Thursday and return Saturday, was funded by the Furman Politics and International Affairs Department and the Student Government Association. Tickets were available because of the university’s No Lost Generation chapter, which Natalie Tikhonovsky ’20, who was recently named a University Innovation Fellow by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, founded just this year.
Launched in 2013, No Lost Generation is a commitment to support children and youth affected by the Syria and Iraq crises. Luzynski, Litz, Sleiman and Marmaras are all members of the Furman chapter’s executive board.
“No Lost Generation works to support refugee resettlement efforts in the Greenville area, and one of the main topics at this year’s Global Engagement Summit was the refugee crisis,” Luzynski, who came to Furman from Roanoke, Virginia, says. “That was how we kind of got tapped into it. But all of us also brought really unique interests outside of the refugee crisis that were also related to what the U.N. is working on right now.”
Litz, an Atlanta native, was adopted as an infant from China. Being seen as different by some has given her empathy for people who arrive in a strange country, and she’d like others to share that empathy.
“I think it’s important to make people aware that refugees aren’t terrorists. They’re fleeing from persecution,” she says. “It’s hard for people to conceptualize that . . . We’re very blind to issues that we don’t face.”
Walking into the U.N. headquarters is something Luzynski will never forget.
“I never in a million years would have expected during my senior year of undergraduate that I would be sitting in the general assembly hall of the United Nations headquarters. It was mind-boggling,” she says. “Walking into that hall and knowing that so many important decisions were being made there and so many important people were gathered there to try and make our world a better place – it was overwhelming.”