As part of the International Alliance for Research Universities’ (IARU) ongoing student education initiatives and exchanges, four students from member universities had the opportunity to attend the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) conference in Stockholm, Sweden from 11-13 June 2018. The students were active participants during the three-day conference and helped to facilitate the joint IARU/ISCN special event on the role of academia in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. The students are working together to develop a report on this special event but they wanted to share a few of their other noteworthy conference experiences.
Among the many engaging sessions of the ISCN Conference, I found myself particularly interested in the student breakout session that took place on the second day, titled: “Student engagement and reinforcing sustainability in HEIs.” Hosted by facilitator Malin Eriksson and chair Veine Haglund as students of KTH Royal Institute of Technology, the student session aimed to both showcase examples of and critically analyze the role of students in decision-making processes for higher education institutions.
The first of three presentations, “Veggie at my place & Student Networks” by Moa Persson illustrated the ability of students to share ideas, generate creative projects, and collaborate to promote a culture of sustainability. As a coordinator at the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology, Persson supports students within sustainability by overseeing student networks such as the Gothenburg Students for Sustainability Alliance (GSSA) and Students for Sustainability Sweden. These extended networks thoroughly captured my attention due to the broad range of resources available for students as well as the ease of collaboration between members. As a student myself, I find these organized networks invaluable due to the incredible wealth of knowledge accessible to motivated, passionate students. The students of GSSA created group cooking nights called “Veggie at my place” in order to support sustainable cooking, exemplifying the creative, collaborative projects that can be achieved through these networks.
Supporting student influence in a similar fashion, Alexis Engström acts as a course coordinator at the student-led center for environment and development studies (CEMUS) at Uppsala University. In his presentation on “CEMUS: Education & Societal Change in Troubled Times,” Engström outlined the ways in which CEMUS engages students through festivals, open lectures, and film-screenings on sustainability. As a student studying the societal implications of climate change, I was particularly intrigued by CEMUS’s commitment to utilizing education as a tool for empowerment, as well as its transdisciplinary approach to sustainability. I believe this humanitarian focus is crucial to combating climate change on a holistic level, as a transdisciplinary education not only stimulates critical thought, but also engages a wider range of students.
I believe this humanitarian focus is crucial to combating climate change on a holistic level, as a transdisciplinary education not only stimulates critical thought, but also engages a wider range of students.
University of Toronto students Danielle Pal, Nathan Postma, Emily Shaw, Nicolas Côté, and Rashad Brugmann also highlighted the importance of students’ educational experience in promoting sustainability through their presentation on “Normalizing Sustainability at the University of Toronto: The Expanded Student Engagement Project.” By documenting sustainability-related courses, student groups, and community engaged learning courses, the students aimed to promote sustainability initiatives, enhance networks, and foster a sense of common identity. These inventories are crucial to improving visibility and access to sustainability courses and groups within higher education institutions, creating pathways of opportunities for interested students. I found this final presentation particularly inspiring due to the depth of leadership and innovation displayed by the University of Toronto students. As someone who is only entering her second year of university, I find these inventories to be incredibly useful for students like myself who are eager to get involved in sustainability efforts on campus as much as possible.
“If the students are coming and saying something, then the school should put effort in continuing their engagement.”
While delivering a speech on leadership for sustainable development during the last day of the conference, President of KTH Royal Institute of Technology Sigbritt Karlsso commented, “If the students are coming and saying something, then the school should put effort in continuing their engagement.” The three projects presented during the student breakout session showcased ways to continuously support and cultivate a culture of sustainability amongst the student population at higher education institutions. This work is crucial to successfully empower the next generation of leaders to approach sustainable development from a place of heightened interest and care for the communities around them. It was truly eye-opening to witness the scope of resources and individuals who hope to inspire future students’ work in sustainability, and I am excited to carry this newfound motivation with me as I continue my studies.
To read more IARU Student Exchanges from the ISCN Conference, click here.
To read the IARU Sustainability Report on the SDGs, click here.
Mikayla Tran (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley studying Society & Environment. As a Carbon Neutrality Fellow at the UC Berkeley Office of Sustainability & Energy, her passions include environmental justice, gender equality, and youth activism.