53rd Annual World Affairs Institute for Youth Changemakers

March 5, 2024 @ 8:00AM — 3:00PM Eastern Time (US & Canada) Add to Calendar

William Pitt Union @ University of Pittsburgh: 3959 Fifth Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15260 Get Directions

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If your Rotary Club or School District missed the registration deadline but is interested in attending the World Affairs Institute on March 5, please reach out to communications@worldpittsburgh.org.

Join us on March 5, 2024 for the World Affairs Institute for Youth Changemakers, presented by Rotary International, Sustainable Pittsburgh, and World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.

Designed by and created for youth, the World Affairs Institute engages students in discussions of key issues in international affairs so that they can understand and think critically about their world.

This year's by-youth, for-youth World Affairs Institute will focus on Navigating Climate Intersections.

Climate change and its impacts affects all areas of our daily life. This year’s Institute will focus on how climate action affects every aspect of our lives and intersects with our other key global focus areas of Women and Girls and Global Migration, with the overarching themes of truth and compassion.

Through interactive workshops, panel discussions, and performances, we’ll explore how to navigate our new climate reality and chart a path to a more secure and sustainable future for all.

Important Note: Educators and Rotary chaperones should register on this page along with their students. However, during the day they will attend the Changemakers Across Sectors track.

The Institute has been approved for 4.5 ACT 48 credits.

Tentative Agenda


Day-Of Information

Parking: The World Affairs Institute will be held at the University of Pittsburgh's William Pitt Union located at 3959 Fifth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Click here to find a visitor parking map and more information about Oakland parking and the ParkMobile app.

Dress Code: We invite you to show up in your favorite conference wear — you decide what that means for you. We want you to feel comfortable and ready to dig into the important work of building a globally minded, globally connected Pittsburgh.

Scholarships & Cost

The fee of $75 for each student and chaperone covers the cost of all conference sessions, a light breakfast and lunch, and Institute lead-up activities and resources.

Registration is open for Rotary-sponsored and school-sponsored groups. Rotary Clubs sponsor their local students and educator chaperones. Interested in having your school attend the Institute but unsure if scholarships are available? Contact your local Rotary Club, Interact Club, or school district:

The deadline to register your sponsored school group has been extended to Wednesday, January 31.

Important Information Regarding the Checkout Process:

  • When asked if you are representing an Individual or Organization, click "Organization" and enter the details for your Rotary Club or High School.
  • Please share personal email addresses for all sponsored participants to ensure that important registration information and event updates are not blocked by school email account settings.

Follow the Instructions Below to Pay by Check:

  1. Indicate the number of students and chaperones you are sponsoring, and then click "Sponsor".
  2. On the next page, click "Enter Promo Code" and enter code "CHECK". This will bring the balance due to $0.
  3. Complete the check-out process, entering student and chaperone information.
  4. Mail a check to WACP office (2640 BNY Mellon Center, 500 Grant Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219) with their Rotary Club Name and WAI53 in the memo.

If you would like to help make this event accessible to other students in the region without a Rotary sponsor, please click "Donate" or donate any amount during the checkout process to contribute to the Council's scholarship fund.

Lead-Up Activities

As part of the Youth Changemakers track, we will be hosting activities in the months leading up to the World Affairs Institute to further engage students in the conference’s global focus areas — Climate Action, Women & Girls, and Global Migration — and to ensure that every student feels prepared to fully participate in the conference workshops and discussions.

Click here to register for the lead-up activities.

All activities are FREE and open to all schools — even those who are unable to attend the conference but want to learn more and get involved!

  • Virtual Film Screening: A screening of the film Youth v Gov and a virtual classroom visit from a lawyer or judge, in partnership with Film Pittsburgh’s Teen Screen and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. This virtual opportunity is for classroom/ school groups and is available on demand.
  • Virtual Global Dialogue: A moderated virtual dialogue with classrooms around the world discussing the conference focus areas, in partnership with Generation Global. This virtual opportunity is for classroom/ school groups or individual students and is available on Feb. 27 at 8:30 AM, Feb. 28 at 10:30 AM, or Feb. 29 at 12 PM.
  • National Security Briefing: A briefing by senior military officials on how various global issues, including Women & Girls and Global Migration, intersect with U.S. national security, in partnership with the U.S. Army War College Eisenhower Series College Program. This hybrid opportunity is for school groups and is available virtually or in-person at Mt. Lebanon High School on Feb. 8 at 9 AM.


Meet Our Speakers

Dr. Joylette Portlock is the executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh. Joylette has always cared about the natural world. Her dad was a science teacher, so she was used to backyard field trips, and she co-founded her high school’s Earth club. She then went on to an extensive career in science, earning a Ph.D. in genetics from Stanford University. As her career progressed, she found it most rewarding to not just understand how things work, but to make that information available to others. Her work focuses on building community around sustainability topics, with a particular interest in making important scientific, technical, or complex information accessible and useful. Read more about Joylette.

Sundaa Bridgett-Jones is the Chief Partnership and Advocacy Officer for the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, a new enterprise to accelerate and scale equitable energy transitions in low- and middle-income countries. She leads a new partnership construct for the Alliance, spearheaded by The Rockefeller Foundation, the IKEA Foundation, and the Bezos Earth Fund, in support of ending energy poverty and spurring just energy transitions in developing and emerging economies. Read more about Sundaa.


Amali Tower is founder and executive director of Climate Refugees. She has extensive global experience in refugee protection, resettlement, forced migration and displacement contexts, having worked for NGOs, the UN Refugee Agency, and the US Refugee Admissions Program. Years of interviewing refugees fleeing conflict allowed her the chance to hear their stories of also fleeing climate change. Through this, Climate Refugees was born. She has conducted research in climate displacement contexts, including in urban and camp settings. Her case study on climate, conflict and displacement in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin was presented as evidence of loss and damage at COP26. Read more about Amali.

Sherry Zalika Sykes is a senior level career Foreign Service Officer with over twenty-four years of experience at the U.S. Department of State. She is currently the Diplomat in Residence for Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where she seeks to inspire and inform on careers, internships, and fellowships with the Department of State. Her diplomatic assignments have included being the Director of the Office of Environmental Quality, Deputy Director of the Office of Conservation and Water, and Scientific Affairs Officer in the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. She brings a love of the arts, a passion for environmental and scientific affairs, and an eagerness to help the citizens of this region where she was born to learn about career opportunities with the Department of State. Read more about Sherry Zalika Sykes.


Jake Werner is acting director of the East Asia Program at the Quincy Institute. His research examines the emergence of great power conflict between the US and China and develops policies to rebuild constructive economic relations. Prior to joining Quincy, Jake was a Postdoctoral Global China Research Fellow at the Boston University Global Development Policy Center, a Harper-Schmidt Fellow at the University of Chicago, a Fulbright Scholar at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, and a Fulbright-Hays Fellow at East China Normal University in Shanghai. Jake is also a cofounder of Justice Is Global, a grassroots organizing project that advocates for reforms to the global economy. Read more about Jake.


Jack McCaslin is a policy advisor on the energy team in the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Prior to joining the State Department, Jack was a research associate for Africa Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC. He received his MPA in international relations and climate from the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and his BA in international relations with a minor in Russian from Colgate University in upstate New York.


Matthew Mehalik is Executive Director of the Breathe Collaborative and its communication platform, the Breathe Project, beginning in September 2016. From 2007 – 2016, he served as Program Director of Sustainable Pittsburgh where he created Pittsburgh’s sustainable business network, Champions for Sustainability, and its performance programs and networks. Matt has been teaching sustainability and environmental policy at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University, since 2008. He has published multiple peer-reviewed articles in sustainability, design and education and has co-authored “Ethical and Environmental Challenges to Engineering” with Michael E. Gorman and Patricia Werhane. Matthew’s Ph.D. is in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia. For the past 25 years, Matthew has dedicated himself to creating and managing networks that transform systems for a sustainable, just, fair and hopeful future. He serves on the Phipps Conservatory Board of Trustees. Read more about Matthew.


Aimee Curtright is a senior scientist at RAND and a professor of policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. With more than two decades of experience in energy, infrastructure, and environmental policy analysis, her work often explores research, development, and adoption of energy technologies and tradeoffs in their costs, technical performance, environmental impact, and social and economic implications. Areas of expertise include solar PV, unconventional shale gas, and building efficiency, and her work has evaluated the impacts of these technologies on sustainability, resilience, and equity in a range of contexts and for a range of sponsors. Read more about Aimee.


Nisha Blackwell is a purpose-driven Entrepreneur and Chief Creative Officer of Knotzland Bowties, an environmentally and socially sustainable company that sources, rescues, and repurposes discarded textiles into stylish bowties intentionally made through providing flexible work-from-home sewing opportunities to people around the region. Since 2015, Knotzland has rescued over 7,000lbs of textiles and materials from entering landfills and has cultivated a community of mentors, sustainability advocates, and loyal customers through participation in Pittsburgh’s ecosystem of creative hubs, accelerators, and business incubators in the city and abroad. Read more about Nisha.


Lydia Morin brings over a decade of community building experience to her role as Executive Director of the Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT). Before CONNECT, Morin spent three years leading community engagement and development in the Sto-Rox area, where part of her mission was shifting neighborhood partners from a competitive mindset to a collaborative one.


Miguel A. Sagué Jr. is the community outreach, cultural and historical education representative for the Speaker’s Bureau at the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center. He is a member of the Taino Indigenous nation of the Caribbean Islands off the coast of Central America. He emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 10 and grew up in western Pennsylvania. He worked as an elementary school teacher in the Pittsburgh Public School District until he retired in 2010. He has been a member of the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center since 1977. As a representative of the Indian Center he has offered historical and cultural presentations all over the western Pennsylvania region for over three decades. His presentations are featured at conventions, schools, community groups and cultural organizations of all kinds.


Marita Garrett was born into a family that firmly believed in exercising their civic duty and spirit of volunteerism, and her drive and commitment to serving underinvested communities is palpable. As an undergraduate, Marita became immersed in the community and public sectors, as an Outreach Coordinator with University of Pittsburgh’s Alzheimer Disease Research Center. In 2017, Marita launched Civically, Inc, a social enterprise that focuses on community development by promoting civic and social literacy to instill self-reliance. Initiatives include Free Store Wilkinsburg, Fresh Market, Civically Speaking, and Wilkinsburg Community Conversations, as well as initiatives for health literacy and education. Advocating for women in leadership, Ms. Garrett was the co-host of Shattered Glass stories of extraordinary women shattering the glass ceiling are highlighted.

Vanessa G. is a member of Pittsburgh Youth for Climate Action (PYCA), is a youth group hosted by Communitopia that provides high school students from across Southwestern PA a chance to collectively take action on climate change. She is a senior at Winchester Thurston School.

Mathilda T. is a member of Pittsburgh Youth for Climate Action (PYCA), is a youth group hosted by Communitopia that provides high school students from across Southwestern PA a chance to collectively take action on climate change. She is a junior at Pittsburgh CAPA.


More speakers will be announced soon.


We are grateful to Rotary International and Sustainable Pittsburgh for their partnership on this event.



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