Soon after NYU Abu Dhabi sophomore Benjamin Jance IV arrived in the United Arab Emirates to begin his university studies, he discovered an overwhelming sense of community.
Equipped with a strong sense of idealism, a desire to bring peo
ple together and a brilliant smile, Jance looks for ways to implement grassroots solutions to local and global issues. With positivity and conviction to win over the most cynical and pessimistic of critics, he has strived to establish an atmosphere of symbiotic encouragement and respect.
A typical day for Jance is busy. At any given moment, he could be meeting with members of student government, planning the next event for his environmentally focused group Ecoherence, or setting up the stage for an open mic night. You may find Benjamin interning with the United Nations Environment Programme, working as a Peer Ambassador on NYUAD Candidate Weekends or singing with his band 10th of December. He also go-karts recreationally.
“In the limited free time he has, he supports his classmates by attending events they have organized and are hosting, or in which they are participating,” said Renee Dugan, acting assistant dean of Campus Life at NYUAD.
That any full-time student could manage to juggle such a heavy and varied schedule seems to defy linear time. But despite this seemingly sleepless combination of extra-curriculars and community activities, Jance radiates energy and enthusiasm.
“My motto is people before programs,” he said. “We can accomplish so much more by focusing on [the] needs of who we’re working with.”
Fueling his energy — and intimidatingly packed schedule — is a passion for making meaningful, sustainable change in the world and a drive to empower those around him to do the same. This is what brought Jance to create the first-ever Global Issues Network conference at NYUAD.
An offshoot of similar conferences, this event brings young people together to facilitate provocative discussion and sowing ideas and meaningful action plans from grassroots-based youth. It is scheduled to take place in January 2013 with 80 delegates from “every continent, except Antarctica.” Not bad for someone with so little free time.
And yes, he does go to class. Jance studies political science, with a multidisciplinary concentration in environmental studies. He dreams big.
“In many ways, [Global Issues Network 2013] is more than just a conference,” he said. “It’s a blueprint that can be taken to schools around the world to give thousands of other students the chance to implement their ideas.”
Yet he grounds himself in the people who surround him, pushing all else aside for a good conversation or discussion.
“There’s so much to be learned from individual people, I don’t see any other way to work,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 13th print edition. Alistair Blacklock is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.