New student-driven initiative offers a hub for students to take action on the SDGs

glass planet in a forest with sunshine – Usa map

A new student-driven initiative launched by York University’s Sustainability Office is helping students of all disciplines learn about the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and take action to help achieve them – both on and off-campus. The SDGs are a cornerstone of Building a Better Future, the University Academic Plan 2020-2025.

The SDG Student Hub was launched in fall 2020 as part of the partnership between York and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) to bring world-class initiatives in sustainable development to its communities. The SDSN works with universities and other knowledge centers to help them activate sustainable development initiatives through knowledge mobilization; problem-solve partnerships with governments, business and civil society; and encourage local social entrepreneurship.

Althea Reyes
Althea Reyes

“The SDG Student Hub is a semi-physical, semi-virtual space in which university students can learn about, engage with, and take action on the SDGs,” says SDG Coordinator Althea Reyes, who spearheaded the SDG Student Hub initiative at York. “Students can meet fellow students who share a passion for the Sustainable Development Goals and interact to share ideas, collaborate on solutions, and meet professionals working in sustainability.”

Students can join the SDG Hub to network with other students at York University and other SDSN-member universities, learn critical skills and earn credits towards the SDG Students Program Certificate, a non-credit certificate jointly developed by SDSN Youth, the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens and the SDG Academy. “The certificate is not only a designation of a student’s engagement in the SDGs at the local level, but also a way of developing a deeper understanding of how the SDGs apply to their specific career pathway,” says Reyes.

To earn the certificate, students must fulfill requirements in three components focusing on learning about, engaging with and taking action on the SDGs.

“We plan two types of events to help students achieve the certificate: ‘Education,’ which helps students achieve the engagement component of the certificate, and ‘Solutions,’ which helps students achieve the action component,” explains Reyes. “These events provide students with not only a space to learn more about the SDGs, but also the opportunity to network with an array of professionals and speakers.”

Reyes, a third-year undergraduate student in International Development Studies who is also completing a Professional Certificate in Emergency Management, leads a team of eight other student officers at the Hub. During the Hub’s inaugural year, the team has organized seven events that raise awareness and promote student engagement with the SDGs. The “Ready for 2030? SDG Seminar Series” hosted a series of bi-monthly seminars exploring the challenges and opportunities to achieve the chosen ‘SDG of the Month,’ focusing on how the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact. Seminars so far have centered on “Inequalities and Sustainable Recoveries” (SDG 10) and “The Future of Food Systems” (SDG 2), which featured guest speaker Roderick J. MacRae, a national food policy expert and professor at York’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC).

Another successful initiative was the Climate Solutions Lab Workshop held this spring, an interactive design thinking-based workshop where participants proposed ambitious climate solutions for the City of Toronto. The event featured a keynote address by Mark Terry, EUC contract faculty, award-winning documentary filmmaker, and lead of the Youth Climate Report. Participation in the workshop counted towards the ‘action’ component of the SDG Students Program Certificate.

In recognition of Earth Day, the Hub hosted a virtual Open House on April 22 that celebrated the first year’s successes, shared exciting plans for next year, and offered information on how students can get involved.

Student members of York’s Hub are also encouraged to network and collaborate with peers at other SDG Student Hubs across Canada and the world. From April 23-25, student members have the opportunity to attend the first-ever Global Virtual Summit hosted by SDSN Youth, where attendees will develop leadership skills and gain insight into social entrepreneurship. Students will also bring their sustainability ideas to the forefront and learn how to scale their projects. York students from the SDG Student Hub, alongside team members at the University of Waterloo, will make up one of only 16 project teams chosen to present at the prestigious summit.

Beyond engaging students on the SDGs, involvement in the Hub offers an invaluable opportunity for students to develop critical skills that help prepare them for their future careers.

“This initiative gave me the opportunity to develop a range of professional skills, including my interpersonal, communication, organization and overall leadership skills,” says Reyes.

She notes that the community and camaraderie she has found while working with her team at the SDG Student Hub has been the highlight of her experience and says that she is looking forward to continuing her involvement next year as a senior SDG coordinator.

“Overall, I am most looking forward to working with some of my officers again next year; I couldn’t ask for a better team to work with,” she says.

The SDG Student Hub, in collaboration with the Office of Sustainability and the Carbon Free Cooperative, is hosting a Student SDG Design Jam on Saturday, May 1, 2021 from 11 to 2 p.m. Students can sign up here.

By Ariel Visconti, YFile communications officer