‘UNHack’ to build Sustainable Development Goals into experiential learning

Image shows a hand holding a pine cone against a lush backdrop of greenery
Image shows a hand holding a pine cone against a lush backdrop of greenery

Each year more than 300 students from across York University engage in an intensive experiential learning event called UNHack, which is focused on helping students understand the creative problem-solving process. This year, UNHack will take place Nov. 19 to 21 and will be offered as a virtual event.

Focused on the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UNHack offers an interesting and empowering experiential learning activity. This year, UNHack is organized by the Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology (BEST) in conjunction with the York University Sustainability Office and its SDG Student Hub initiative. Joining UNHack as new partners are leaders from the School of Nursing’s Nursing Student Tutoring, Ambassadorship and Mentorship Programs.

UNHack organizers are calling on faculty across York University to direct their students to this powerful virtual experiential education event. UNHack is different from most hackathons in two ways: the “UN” comes from the United Nations, and the “hack” from hackathon, which focuses attention on local problems that are linked to the the UN’s 17 SDGs. Addressing global problems at the local level helps students recognize that they can have an impact and make a difference to critical problems that the world needs to address. UNHack is not a traditional hackathon focused on coding; this event promotes a full range of technical and creative solutions aligned around identifying the critical problem and then developing creative solutions to that problem (not the ability to develop code or software). Final prototypes of solutions are informed by the diverse minds and lenses applied to the issue, resulting in creative outputs that could encompass drawing, creating a model or other visuals, rather than technology.   

Challenges in UNHack can either be developed by students or selected from those offered by York University or industry partners. In previous years, participants in UNHack have developed a system to facilitate reusable food containers, a campus-based rideshare platform, apps to help improve mental health and innovative ways to reduce paper use in posters on campus. Many of these solutions are currently in the early stages of being deployed at York University.  

To learn more, visit the UNHack web page or contact Maedeh Sedaghat, BEST program officer, by email at maedeh.sedaghat@lassonde.yorku.ca .