Global leaders of Jefferson


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Last year’s Global Leaders of Fairfax County fellows celebrate their completion of the program in May of this year. “I definitely recommend the program to other students. It’s a great community to join and you learn a lot, and it really gives you the skills that you need to be a leader later on,” Jefferson alumni and 2020-2021 fellow Harini Somanchi said.

Laura Zhang, Staff Writer

For many Jefferson students, the name Ryan McElveen brings to mind exciting memories of snow day announcements. However, along with posting about school cancellations during his time on the Fairfax County School Board, McElveen is also responsible for creating the Global Leaders of Fairfax County program. He founded the initiative in 2020 to help high school seniors become involved in international issues and encourage them to cause positive change.

“The ultimate goal is to make students global citizens and active participants in both their community and the nation and world,” McElveen said.

Through the Global Leaders program, fellows hear from guest speakers in a variety of fields. This unique opportunity to interact with prominent leaders caused many students to develop an interest in the program.

“One of the main reasons I applied was because I knew that there would be a lot of speakers covering international relations and public policy, which are areas that I haven’t really been exposed to at TJ,” senior and current fellow Lillian Sun said.

In addition to learning more about foreign affairs, Sun looks forward to forming relationships with other students.

“I hope to immerse myself in international relations and see how policy affects the solutions to global issues,” Sun said. “I’m also really excited to become closer with other TJ students in the program and to meet seniors from all around Fairfax County.”

McElveen’s inspiration for creating the Global Leaders Program stems from his own experience as a high school student in FCPS. He became interested in global affairs during his senior year but noticed that there was no real-world enrichment to build upon what he learned in class.

“There’s always been a gap in Fairfax County with preparing students to take on issues with an international perspective,” Mcelveen said. “I saw that as kind of disappointing because we live near Washington DC, where there are so many international and governmental institutions that we could be taking advantage of.”

McElveen’s passion for international affairs drove him to fight for foreign language expansion while on the school board. Although his efforts were successful, he still believes that more can be done, especially with regard to engagement outside of school.

“While I was on the school board, I created a task force on internationalization. We were able to make some progress with world languages, but probably not enough,” Mcelveen said. “The area that we really haven’t made any progress in is the extracurricular component, which involves bringing students out in the real world and meeting with influential individuals.”

Jefferson alumni and 2020-2021 fellow Harini Somanchi shares McElveen’s belief that it is especially essential for high school students to be introduced to foreign affairs.

“A lot of the time, when we’re in high school, we think the world is really small and revolves around our grades, our clubs, and the people around us,” Somanchi said. “It’s really important to gain a global mindset and realize that there are issues so much bigger than us.”

McElveen plans on exposing students to real-life examples of international relations through field trips to local government and nonprofit institutions. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions and the diverse backgrounds of the fellows, these excursions may face some constraints. 

“There are about 85 members in the program from schools around the county, so it’s hard to gather all of them in-person to hear from a speaker or do activities,” McElveen said. “There are also a lot of socioeconomic barriers, such as having access to a car or being able to get a rideshare.”

Despite these potential obstacles, McElveen remains optimistic about this year’s program and is excited to connect with the fellows.

“My favorite part about the Global Leaders program is learning from the students because of how passionate and impactful they are. It’s one of the things that makes FCPS such a special place: the students and ideas that they bring,” McElveen said.