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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 19, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 15
'Model' Students Rock the Night Away

More than 500 students cheered on Top Model wannabes.

Benefit event is first of many planned by new group at Homewood

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Andrea Balda is a "self-proclaimed dork who loves chocolate, the 1980s and all things Harry Potter." This particular declaration may not have made it to the final draft of her JHU application essay, but it seemed a fitting enough introduction as the international studies major sauntered down the fashion runway last week in front of several hundred screaming fellow students.

The music thumped, the lights sparkled, and the crowd whooped and howled well into the night on Wednesday, Dec. 7, as Balda and 34 other Homewood undergraduates vied for the honor of being Hopkins Top Model.

The event, held in Homewood's Glass Pavilion, pitted students from sororities, fraternities, sports teams, service organizations and arts groups against one another for the top prizes, two $1,050 packages (one for men, one for women) that included a photo shoot with the John Robert Powers modeling agency. The winners were Austin Walker, representing the men's varsity lacrosse team, and Yasmene Mumby, a member of the Black Student Union.

Winners were Austin Walker and Yasmene Mumby.

The university's own version of the popular TV show was the brainchild and kick-off event of Vision Xchange, a new student "movement" that seeks to wed ultra-fun campuswide activities with a good cause. The Hopkins Top Model event, for example, helped raise money for the children affected in the recent earthquake in South Asia, which killed at least 87,000 people and left more than 3.5 million homeless in northwestern Pakistan and Kashmir. The more than $4,000 raised in ticket sales and donations specifically went to UNICEF's South Asia Emergency Relief Fund.

The movement was initiated by two international relations majors, senior Shruti Mathur and sophomore Salmah Y. Rizvi, with a vision of bringing together enthusiastic, freethinking students to help produce energetic, large-scale events to raise international awareness and relief funds. Specifically, the Vision Xchangers want to shed light on regions and charities that might be overlooked by media or the public at large.

"By putting together fundraisers inspired by pop culture and that spark a natural curiosity, we hope to become champions for causes that are so shockingly in need of attention and funding but simply lack the appropriate coverage and awareness," Mathur said.

Judges Jerry Schnydman and Susan Boswell

By all accounts, the Top Model event was a huge success. Tickets sold out in the first 10 minutes as more than 500 people filled the Glass Pavilion. Twenty-nine different student organizations were represented in a competition that included two rounds of runway walks and two rounds of questioning. The final round of questions came from the six judges--representatives of the John Robert Powers and LitOn modeling agencies; and Hopkins' own Susan Boswell, dean of student life; Jerry Schnydman, executive assistant to the president; and beloved university security guard Cerlisteen "Mama" Vice. For the event, the organization was also able to secure more than $10,000 worth of donated services and items, including a popular D.C.-area DJ, RZ; Sodexho catering; and the night's emcee, rapper and TV talent Komplex.

Not bad for an event that was organized and executed in less than three weeks.

Rizvi said the newly formed organization, whose members eschew formal titles, is passionate about its mission, which includes building a sense of community and activism among Johns Hopkins undergraduates and distancing the university's social scene from its humdrum reputation.

"We are willing to look into all sorts of ideas and activities, no matter how off-the-wall or grandiose," she said. "And we are a flatline group in that everyone has a say and there is no messy bureaucracy or politics to deal with, so anyone or everyone is welcome to join or just share an idea."

The crowd goes wild for its favorites.

Upcoming Vision Xchange events include a College Idol competition in March that the group's leaders said will feature students from Johns Hopkins and several other area universities. The prize, they hope, will be singing the national anthem at a major event like a Baltimore Orioles game.

In April, Vision Xchange will organize an attempt to break the The Guinness Book of World Records mark for simultaneous blind dates, 268 couples. As the kick-off for Spring Fair, it hopes to gather 1,000 students to participate in the event, for which all participants would donate $10 and spend at least one hour with their date. Proceeds will go to an International Red Cross cause, and the evening will also feature talks geared toward AIDS awareness.

Next semester, the group also plans to film the living histories of the Baltimore area's aging refugee population, initiate a leadership program for inner city high school students and host a speaker series featuring international and citizen leaders who will discuss conflict areas such as the Sudan, Colombia and Rwanda.

"In the coming year, we hope to lay a foundation and really make a change by truly unifying the student body via these events on campus, then execute our credibility to expand our initiatives domestically and internationally," Rizvi said.

Judge Cerlisteen 'Mama' Vice

The organization's long-term goal is to create a nonprofit that will spread into a national movement, which might include the creation of Vision Xchange chapters at other colleges.

"We are determined to launch a worldwide precedent where action speeds ahead of age, and establish a consortium where humanitarian but also business-savvy leaders are generated and developed and then sent straight into the field," Mathur said.

If the Top Model event was any indication, Vision Xchange certainly has a knack for creating a buzz. As Rizvi said, "It is definitely not your average student bake sale."

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