Katie Curran has had a passion for leadership and public service from a young age. She saw an area of need when she realized that many young people wanted to get involved in public service and contribute to their communities—they just needed a place to come together and meet other students with the same enthusiasm.
Katie founded Project Next Generation, an organization that empowers youth to become leaders. The organization offers college application mentoring, campaign guidance for students running for school elections, and the opportunity for members to design their own service projects. Katie believes that youth have the ability to be a powerful force for positive change- both now and tomorrow.
Keep her on your radar—she could be the next Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton.
College: Columbia University
Majors: Economics & Political Science
Expected Graduation: Spring 2020
How did you come up with the idea to create Project Next Generation?
I created ProjectNextGeneration.org (PNG) when I recognized a need for youth coalition building in my community. Many students wanted to volunteer but couldn’t easily find a group of other like-minded young leaders to join them. As a result, I exerted my efforts into creating a network of young people who wanted to work on activism and volunteer projects together.
In 2013, I established Project Next Generation, an international organization. PNG's mission is to inspire the next generation of young leaders to effect positive change worldwide. In subsequent years, PNG developed into a powerful youth campaign both locally and globally. It was very powerful to see young people bond over a shared love for service. PNG has become a platform for the next generation of diplomats, doctors and senators.
Why is it important that this is an organization for youth that is also led by youth? How does this empower young people?
Each day youth fight for a seat at the decision-making table. Young people are not only future leaders, but also current leaders. It is imperative PNG is an organization for youth led by youth because young people should be in leadership positions now and have a say in the structure and function of my organization. This empowers young people by serving as an example of how we must refuse to let our young ages define us. There is no better time than now for us to take a stand and create change in our communities.
Where did your passion for leadership and public service begin?
My passion for leadership developed at a young age when I heard stories about my grandfather, Jeremiah F. Cahir and his political courage. At the young age of 17, he enlisted in World War II and fought for our country in North Africa and Italy. Years later, he re-enlisted to fight in the Korean War. Upon return to the United States, he served as a selectman and was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a State Representative.
Although I never met him, many people tell me that my positive energy and commitment to public service remind them of him. I aspire to run for office, follow in his political footsteps and celebrate the legacy of my grandfather.
What are some of the positive outcomes you have seen from your program?
I have seen a wide array of positive outcomes from Project Next Generation. One of the most meaningful aspects of PNG is mentoring students during the college application process. We help students study for SAT’s, apply for colleges and compete for scholarships. Mentees have been accepted to the nation’s top colleges including Stanford, University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth.
PNG students have also run for their student council elections at school and won. They also have designed their own service projects, ranging from volunteering at nursing homes to coordinating canned food drives.
What advice do you have for other ambitious women?
My advice to ambitious women is to speak loud and dream big. No matter what obstacles come your way, never stop dreaming and achieving. Do not let anyone or anything stand in front of your goals. Be true to yourself and surround yourself with people who care about you and support you. Don’t be afraid to be brilliant and bold. Most of all, be a force to be reckoned with!
What do you consider your greatest achievement to date? Was there a specific moment where you saw your hard work pay off?
Encouraging my students to be global citizens and compassionate community leaders is one of Project Next Generation’s greatest achievements. Under the umbrella of PNG, I created a series of leadership workshops called the “Middle School World Peace and Diplomacy Program.” The program emulates model United Nations, where students represent various countries and debate international issues. Youth learn some of their country’s language and shared with others about the local culture. We then hold roundtable discussions about environmental issues and human rights.
One of the most powerful moments at one of PNG's diplomacy workshops was when students learned Rajio Taiso, a Japanese exercise routine set to music. It was exciting to see students engage with different cultures, especially since many of the youth had never traveled outside the country or state. This way, PNG breaks down barriers and encourages global citizenship right in our own backyard. I am confident that one of PNG's students will be a UN delegate one day.
What is the key impact that you hope your non-profit makes on society?
The key impact that I hope ProjectNextGeneration.org makes is inspiring young people to reach their potential and utilize their talents. One of my goals is to motivate students to attend college. Another area I desire to focus on is encouraging women to run for public office. By supplying PNG's students with the mentorship and skills to reach their goals, anything can be achieved!
Who in your life most inspires you?
One of my biggest inspirations is United States Senator Elizabeth Warren. I respect her because she always stands up for what she believes in. Senator Warren speaks her mind on political issues even in the face of adversity. Ultimately, she has taught me that: We must persist!
How would you describe yourself in five words?
Ambitious, Caring, Dependable, Determined, and Adventurous.
Jillian James is a senior at the University of Central Florida. She is majoring in Writing and Rhetoric and minoring in Mass Communication (because apparently you can’t minor in Beyoncé studies). Her favorite food is free because she is a college student and the two loves of her life are Ben and Jerry (of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream fame). If she’s not writing or reading she is probably watching The Office or waiting in line at Starbucks. She loves to show off her dance moves in “inappropriate” places like the grocery store. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @Jillianrosej, where she frequently posts things that make people think that she has her life together.