Meet Gaelic Jara Reinhold, 4th year EEE student and UN Millenium Fellowship Campus Director
Gaelic chats to us about his experience on the Fellowship tackling the issue of lack of safety walking alone at night, his experience from his studies at EEE and his advice for current students.
9 November 2023
Gaelic Jara Reinhold, 4th year student within UCL’s Electronic and Electrical Engineering has been selected as a UN Millenium Fellowship campus director, part of a global initiative focused on leadership development, social impact, and global citizenship.
This year, forty UCL students were selected as Millenium Fellows, which was the largest cohort in Europe. The fellowship typically involves workshops, networking sessions, and hands-on experience in creating meaningful, sustainable change in their communities and beyond. They work on collaborative projects aimed at advancing the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and receive training, mentorship, and support to implement and scale their social action initiatives.
What do you do as Millenium Fellowship Campus Director?
As campus director, I guide the program at UCL. I started with one-to-one meetings with my Fellows to discuss the fellowship and now, alongside Leila Lai, my co-director, we are running weekly sessions. We prepare them by familiarizing ourselves with the content and then leading the activities. My responsibilities include mentoring fellows, teaching the material, ensuring a collaborative environment within the group, and tracking their progress. Additionally, as directors, we collaborate with other directors across the globe.
How did you get onto the Fellowship?
One of the Fellows, Catherina, mentioned it to me back in March. I then did some research on it, and I discovered that the project I had embarked on with Ina Jovicic, a graduate student, was a perfect fit for the Millennium Fellowship. Our initiative was centred around creating a safety badge designed not only for women but for anyone feeling vulnerable when walking alone at night. Ina had initially approached me a few months prior, in search of an electrical engineer. We quickly realized we shared similar values, which laid the foundation for our collaboration. Consequently, our project evolved into more than just a concept; it became a start-up.
What did you include in your application for the Fellowship?
I took time deciding what to mention while applying and I ended up taking a very personal approach focusing on two subjects. I started talking about my little brother and our somewhat unique story of being separated for a long period of time. I described how this experience motivated me to further work and ensure he could have a bright future. Also, as someone from Uruguay with an Argentinian mother, I was able to discuss how observing people struggle on daily basis relative to the comfortable life found in Europe shaped my hunger to make a positive impact. I emphasised how my goal is to make a positive impact in the world but also eventually go back to my roots in South America and help my people.
So how do you envisage helping back home in Argentina?
Well, the project I'm currently working on, aims to tackle the lack of safety walking alone at night. Living in central London, I've realized it's not as safe as people might think. From phone snatching and aggressive robberies to stabbings, I've heard too many scary stories. It shocks me that this still happens in 2023! And it's even worse in places like Argentina. Last summer, I was in Buenos Aires and saw that people were constantly on edge, always looking over their shoulders or trying to blend in just to avoid being targeted for something as simple as a watch. So, I hope one day to implement my project back home.
What is something you've learned on the Fellowship so far?
The first thing that pops in my mind is about the difference between being "helpful" and showing "helpfulness". Being helpful is when you do something for someone, like cooking a meal. But helpfulness goes a step further – it's about empowering someone to do things themselves. For instance, it's like teaching someone to cook.
We looked at a case where an organization installed water pumps in Africa to address water scarcity. While this may seem helpful, the systems were too difficult for locals to repair, resulting in a lot of money being wasted getting people onsite to repair them. True helpfulness would have been teaching locals to repair the pumps themselves.
We spent quite some time digging into this concept and reflecting on it. We analysed our own projects, considering how they might be helpful but also how they could unintentionally have negative impacts.
Do you have advice on the application process for the Millennium Fellowship?
I would advise not restraining yourself from talking about personal experiences that you may have encountered; those are usually the most impactful ones. I would also be open about how you feel, with how you see the world today and what you think needs to be changed. That’s what they are really looking for.
It was a very hard application, I must say. It was very time consuming, but very rewarding because you analyse how your project and everything you do throughout your life can go towards impacting the SDGs. It really makes you reflect on everything you do and how you can improve.
How has your experience at EEE supported you in addressing the SDGs?
There's a lot I can say about that, but the most useful skill I learned was to think outside the box, particularly in my minor: robotics, in which we had numerous projects that demanded creative problem-solving. Our professor, Chow Lai, encouraged all of us to embrace innovation without the constraint of strict guidelines, which really fostered an environment where there was no single right answer but a multitude of possibilities to explore. His teaching style was not just informative but truly inspiring and I recommend his minor to everyone. Thanks to him, I also had the chance to volunteer at the ICRA conference which made me realise the true potential of robotic systems. This problem-solving skill was useful when working on my project.
What project/coursework did you do on Robotics?
The one project I absolutely adored was the designing of an automatic charging plug for electric vehicles. With my group, we had to figure out how we could automate the process of getting the plug into the socket without human input. We came up with an original solution using an inflatable arm that reached down to the car level.
Do you have any other advice for students passionate about the SDGs?
Go for it! It’s great to find your passion and use it for something positive. I also advise against choosing a career solely for financial gain. In my conversations with students, I notice a strong focus on financial success, and making this a priority could lead to missing the essence of life and its richer experiences. I believe if you pursue your passion, financial success should naturally follow anyway. I highly recommend working towards improving SDGs as it is very fulfilling and impactful.