Danielle Moore and Kristen Paonessa knew they wanted to do a cubicle-​​free inter­na­tional co-​​op that enabled them to apply their skills, and ful­fill their pas­sion for empow­ering women. But they didn’t know that their expe­ri­ence working for the Harp­swell Foun­da­tion in Phnom Penh, Cam­bodia, would, in turn, empower them.

Since July, they have been pro­viding sup­ple­men­tary edu­ca­tion — Eng­lish lan­guage classes, lead­er­ship training and current-​​event dis­cus­sions — to young women from rural Cam­bodia who are attending uni­ver­si­ties in the cap­ital city.

One of their ongoing projects has been to help orga­nize Harpswell’s first con­fer­ence, “Women Inno­va­tors in Cam­bodia,” taking place on Jan­uary 22, 2011. Six Cam­bo­dian women from the med­ical field, the arts and social entre­pre­neur­ship will dis­cuss the chal­lenges and suc­cesses of being an ambi­tious woman in Cambodia.

Moore and Paonessa, who won Pres­i­den­tial Global Scholar awards from North­eastern to sup­port their co-​​op, are serving as lead­er­ship res­i­dents in one of the two women’s dor­mi­to­ries built by the foun­da­tion in Phnom Penh.

They also had the oppor­tu­nity to meet Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clinton, who vis­ited Cam­bodia while on a tour of Asia. Clinton sum­moned a Town Hall meeting for the country’s youth and asked the U.S. ambas­sador to invite 50 Harp­swell stu­dents, and their lead­er­ship residents.

Both North­eastern stu­dents say they have gained insight into them­selves and their future careers by upholding the mis­sion of the Harp­swell Foun­da­tion to empower a new gen­er­a­tion of women leaders in Cam­bodia and throughout the devel­oping world.

Con­vincing the women of (their equality) is also con­vincing me of the strength I have as a woman and what I could be back home in the States,” said Paonessa, an inter­na­tional affairs major and eco­nomics minor.

She said the expe­ri­ence has helped her cul­ti­vate her lead­er­ship skills and made her realize that she wants to pursue a career that will allow her to impact people’s lives on a daily basis.

Moore, a dual major in human ser­vices and inter­na­tional affairs with a minor in Spanish, said it is “very ful­filling to feel as though Harpswell’s mis­sion is being car­ried out each and every day and we’re con­tributing to that.”

The co-​​op is pro­viding Moore with a glimpse into what her chosen career path — to work in con­flict and dis­aster sit­u­a­tions — might be like.

As the first Amer­ican stu­dents and first Northestern co-​​ops to work for the Harp­swell Foun­da­tion, they are also helping to forge a global partnership.

They are both so smart and ded­i­cated,” said Harpswell’s founding director, Alan Lightman. “They have really done a superb job. I’m really delighted with the co-​​op pro­gram at North­eastern, and the oppor­tu­nity to have two star stu­dents working at Harpswell.”