Watch: Kassandra Sparks '15 and Trip Lenahan '15 Introduce Stephen Colbert to the "Chester Sound"

by Zach Epstein

At this year's Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), held this week in St. Louis, Mo., Kassandra Sparks '15 and Trip Lenahan '15 presented a hip-hop music education program called The Chester Sound at CGI U's Exchange Fair. Not only were they able to discuss their work with other students and youth organizations, but Stephen Colbert even stopped by to chat and get a hands-on Chester Sound experience.

Slated to officially begin in the fall after a successful pilot run, The Chester Sound connects middle and high school students in Chester, Pa., with Swarthmore College student mentors to collaboratively make hip-hop and electronic music. The program consists of semester-long sessions where students learn new equipment, build relationships, assume a variety of team roles, and become confident in their creativity. Applying these skills, students will write and record an original collaborative album.

"CGI U was an inspiring experience," says Sparks, a sociology and anthropology major from Archbald, Pa. "The events were engaging and the workshops addressed some of the trickiest issues of social justice. We met students addressing major problems in interesting and innovative ways. Then we all came together at the conference to help each other improve our commitments. People gave us suggestions, advice, and provided really valuable international connections."

"We feel newly inspired to run a great program after meeting so many amazing people," agrees Lenahan, a religion major from Glenburn, Pa.

The sophomore duo began work on The Chester Sound in February 2012. This spring, they partnered with the Chester Children's Chorus, founded by Associate Professor of Music John Alston.

CGI U is an annual gathering of students, youth organizations, experts, and celebrities who meet to "discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges." Attendees must develop their own "Commitments to Action," a specific plan that "addresses a pressing challenge on campus, in the community, or around the world." Launched in 2007 by President Bill Clinton, CGI U is designed to "engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world."

"We were amazed by how easygoing Bill Clinton was," Sparks says. "He was really excited to hear about our projects, easy to talk to, and ready to give suggestions."

Colbert made a lasting impression as well, discussing Swarthmore's likeness to the setting of one of his favorite books. "He joked that Swarthmore's campus is like Middle Earth," Lenahan says, "and the Crum is like Tolkien's Woods of Lorien."

Sparks served as this year's CGI U Campus Representative for Swarthmore, and also attended CGI U last spring. The Swarthmore Foundation, administered by the College's Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, also supported the attendance at the event of Jason Heo '15, Daniel Eisler '15, Amir Parikh '15, Htet Moe Nwe Win '16, Aarti Rao '14, and Nimesh Ghimire '15.