Clinton Global Initiative Highlights Mercer On Mission Project

The Clinton Global Initiative University – a program of the William J. Clinton Foundation – recognized Mercer University's efforts to help amputees in Vietnam and other developing nations as "as an exemplary approach to addressing a specific global challenge" on February 13, 2009 during the organization's annual conference in Austin, Texas. The University's Mercer On Mission project was one of only four "commitments" by universities around the country to be recognized by President Bill Clinton during the conference's opening plenary session.

The CGI U program partners with universities and students who make specific "commitments" to engaging the world and taking on global challenges. President Clinton described the Mercer project at the meeting and presented University Minister and Dean of the Chapel Dr. Craig McMahan with a certificate acknowledging the University's commitment.

"It is an incredible honor for this Mercer On Mission project to be chosen as one of just a handful to be specially recognized from among more than 700 commitments in this year's CGI University," said Dr. McMahan, who is also an associate professor of Christianity and coordinates Mercer On Mission. "That the Mercer On Mission project in Vietnam stood out among the commitments from some of the most elite and engaged universities in the country reflects well on the direction set by Mercer President William D. Underwood, focusing the University on engagement and service."

The Mercer On Mission project will help to address a worldwide problem, which is particularly acute in Vietnam, where the project will launch this summer. More than 2,000 Vietnamese are injured each year by land mines and unexploded bombs left during the Vietnam War, Clinton said. There are an estimated 100,000 amputees living in Vietnam today and more than 18 million amputees around the world, with more than 80 percent of those living in developing countries, he said.

This is a big deal personally to me, because when I was president we normalized relations with Vietnam … and I have visited clinics where children who are losing their legs to this 40-year-old unexploded ordnance are treated," Clinton said. "You cannot imagine the difference this makes in their lives. …This is a very good thing that Mercer has done."

Mercer's commitment to the amputees is just one of eight projects in this year's Mercer On Mission program. The project is part of a three-year initiative by Mercer to provide amputees with low-cost prosthetics that can be fitted without having to be fully customized. Because amputees in developing countries cannot afford expensive customized prosthetics, they often must go without them. Mercer has developed a new form of inexpensive prosthetics, which do not require full customization. Designed by Mercer School of Engineering students, the prosthetics use a universal socket technology developed by Dr. Ha van Vo, assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering.

During the summer of 2009, a Mercer On Mission group led by Dr. Vo and fellow engineering professor Dr. Ramachandran Radharamanan began the distribution of the prosthetics in Vo's native Vietnam. The group also trained local medical personnel to adapt the prosthetics to fit individual amputees. Eventually, Mercer plans to expand the program to Thailand and India.

"This project represents the essence of the engineering educational experience that we strive to deliver here at Mercer," said Dr. Michael S. Leonard, interim dean of the School of Engineering. "It uses engineering design and analysis to find ways to improve the quality of people's lives. Our students and professors have designed something that will do that in a dramatic way. While we are proud that their commitment was recognized, we are even more proud of the impact this will have on the lives of so many in developing nations."

The Mercer On Mission program's accolades were just one of the highlights from the conference for Mercer. Dr. McMahan and Dr. Mary Alice Morgan, senior vice provost for service-learning, served as facilitators for a workshop on peace and justice issues, and two Mercer Service Scholars, Patricia Hardesty and Jon Smith, were selected to be among the conference's 1,000 student attendees from an application pool of more than 3,500 students nationwide.