This year, the Center for United Nations and Global Governance Studies at the School of Diplomacy hosted its fourth annual Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Challenge. Continuing a longstanding tradition of advancing the United Nation's (UN) Global Goals, student leaders, scholars, and civil society representatives evaluated 15 diverse proposals seeking to mitigate global disparities.
Challenge finalists came together virtually from across six time zones, several states and countries to present their innovative ideas to enhance sustainable development. Nine high school students, and five undergraduates presented their solutions for crafting a more just society. The proposals addressed several of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and were inspired by the finalists' personal experiences in addressing gender equality, climate action, responsible consumption, and eliminating global poverty and hunger.
In his opening remarks, Dean Courtney Smith stressed the importance of youth embracing the SDGs. He emphasized that "the future of sustainable development will largely be shaped by the innovative ideas of young scholars," highlighting that "All of our Challenge finalists showcased these qualities through pioneering leadership, a drive to venture into unchartered territory and apply their ingenuity."
Winning first place in the graduate division, Holt Henderson, an undergraduate student from Oregon, created a proposal for reducing hunger while improving economic growth after working on occupational development initiatives in Thailand. The experience inspired him to reshape the structures of agricultural development with the input of local stakeholders in poverty-stricken countries. Henderson argued that by creating a simple framework that highlights the most cost- effective agricultural products and with the help of NGOs, locals could bypass and reduce the cost of intermediaries.
Cynthia Chockalingam, a high school student hailing from Munster, Indiana, won first place in the undergraduate division. Chockalingam proposed an initiative that would expand community gardens to limit the effects of food deserts in the United States. Her action plan focused on student involvement by updating STEM curriculums to include programming pH and moisture readers to help create sustainable gardens. Focusing on local communities first, this initiative would later be able to be scaled up to regional and international levels to reduce both poverty and hunger.
Second place winners, William Watt and Shriya Iyer, focused on solutions that would restructure critical sectors to achieve sustainable production and consumption globally. In her proposal, Iyer argued that "ending global hunger is a mission with a moving goalpost." Her solution to the growing dilemma was centered on reforming agricultural policy, advancing biotechnology research on high yield crops, and developing sustainable sources of protein.
Watt, an undergraduate student hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, focused on revamping the textile industry to combat fast fashion by increasing awareness of its destructive consequences with the help of civil society leaders. He argued that by updating trade deals and provisions for emissions and chemical pollutants in countries that produce textiles, irresponsible production could be limited by imposing fines for companies that lack transparency.
These students join a cohort of previous finalists and winners who, through the Challenge, have been able to sharpen their project development skills and bring awareness to new and innovative solutions to address global issues. Recent finalists Cristian Ramos and Bradley Ryktarsyk are both current graduate students pursuing their M.A. in Diplomacy and International Relations. They have complemented their Challenge proposal research with skills gained through Diplomacy classes and internships.
Ramos, a second-year graduate student from Ciales, Puerto Rico, proposed a "Refugee Legal Defense Project," which focused on speeding up the asylum process to hurry the exit of 25 million refugees worldwide currently living in refugee camps. Hs proposal included the creation of Legal Aid Centers to provide refugees with the legal tools required to start, continue, and finish their applications for asylum.
"I have continued to raise awareness of refugee issues and potential pathways forward through different presentations on campus, my Master’s research project, and my work at the United Nations Population Fund. These collective experiences and the knowledge, data and skills that I developed in the process have inspired me to launch a second project, Wartime Hidden Victims, to support male refugees who are victims of sexual violence."
Ryktarsyk, a Michigan native who just completed his first year of graduate studies, focused on integrating SDGs into STEM classrooms. Since the Challenge, he has been using the data collection skills that he’s picked up from his classes to identify more data points to support his project. He advises future applicants to "start with a small concrete idea that can be expanded. Starting small will give you the chance to have an immediate impact and if you really understand the project you are working on, it will be much easier to scale-up when you have the resources."
The UN Sustainable Development Challenge is one way that the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies encourages students to tackle pressing issues that affect populations all around the world. By coming together through the award-winning Seton Hall Chapter of UNA, serving as UN Youth Reps, attending workshops, conferences and hosting events, Great Minds continue to push the limits of what is possible when we all work together to reach Global Goals. To find out more about our annual Challenge, visit the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies webpage.
Categories: Nation and World