On Wednesday, July 19th, IVECA hosted the iGEP Virtual Conference themed “Global Citizenship Fostering Greening Education Partnership for Sustainable Environment” sponsored by UNESCO-APCEIU and in collaboration with United Nations Academic Impact. The conference was organized in parallel with the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF), where Representatives from the UN system, NGOs, civil society, university students and faculty gathered for the exchange of ideas and solutions to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs.)
Since April, students from Kyunghee University in Korea, Long Island University - Post in the United States, and Shobhit University in India, worked on identifying specific local environmental issues and proposed plans to tackle them through IVECA’s course exchange. Students exercised global citizenship and learned from each others’ initiatives by exchanging information on local issues, possible solutions and by assessing each other’s proposals with one goal in mind: to create a greener and cleaner Earth.
During the conference, each university had the opportunity to showcase their findings and their solutions to their pressing local issues. In his opening remarks, Mr. G. Asok Kumar, Director General NMCG, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India, shared the importance of having a program where students exchange ideas: “I am sure that the exchange of information, ideas and experiences will go a long way in building a better world for us and give the next generation a better world to live in.”
Ms. Jayashri Sarah Wyatt, Chief of Education Outreach at the United Nations Department of Global Communications involving UN Academic Impact also expressed her admiration for the young change-makers present at the event. She highlighted the inspiration drawn from witnessing their dedication to tackling environmental challenges and how they empower themselves through their work. According to Ms. Wyatt, their actions exemplify how education is not only transformative but also an essential catalyst for change, “Through the lens of education and global citizenship, you as students are identifying local environmental challenges, you are proposing innovative solutions and embracing intercultural dialogue, and harnessing knowledge, passion, and creativity… As you collaborate with one another, you are transforming yourselves, the world, the education itself and the system that you are a part of for the sustainable development goals.”
Each university took on a different challenge of climate change, yet, all of the issues are interlinked, and as important as one another. First, Kyunghee University students proposed sustainable waste management strategies through building greener incineration centers in Seoul, South Korea. Reasons such as the closing of Incheon landfill, where the largest amount of Seoul’s waste was buried, as well as the increasing amount of waste per day in Seoul, inspired the need to find a better way to manage waste. Through analyzing the conditions and status of waste generation and treatment, public awareness and perceptions, government policies and support, and an eco-friendly combustion system and technology, students proposed creating more eco-friendly incineration facilities in Korea with a focus on people’s awareness. “The overall perception of building incineration is very negative in Korea, so as we try to build more incineration [facilities] especially, we’ll have to make sure to work with the public and also help them understand that we have certain strategies” as well as consistent government support.
The Korean team of faculty and students expressed enjoying the experience they have had throughout the semester. The team’s mentor, Dr. Jaesung Kwak, Professor of International Development at the Graduate School of Pan-Pacific International Studies at Kyunhee University, said: “This is a genuinely collaborative, transpacific, academic collaboration… so hopefully the show can go on even after or beyond this class.” A Korean student member of the team shared, “I really appreciate the opportunity provided. It has allowed us to gain knowledge and skills that I can use in any future projects and collaborative work.”
Long Island University Post students’ project “Clean Green Queens” focused on environmental education and affordable housing. The students mentioned that “Queens is one of the most diverse cities in the world, making its housing industry research very important.” They created a website that can be constantly updated, with the intention of informing Queens Borough citizens about the housing crisis with useful information that will encourage the public to create change. In addition, the website provides information about environmental sustainability and how it relates to the housing and construction industries and the importance of SDGs, especially SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities). Their project’s ambitious future plans include transferring the website to Queens Borough’s platform and using their expertise to continue updating their information. It is aimed to reach beyond Queens and outside of New York by creating a mobile app to provide more accessibility. They also recognize the importance of collaboration and hope to have more partnerships and mentors to work with.
Dr. Scott Carlin, one of the expert panelists, as well as a professor at the Long Island University - Post highlighted the “passion” of these youth as a core motor to make positive change and share his experience with the IVECA Greening Education Partnership (iGEP): “I just want to say how wonderful this whole process has been and how excited I am to be here with all of you and this opportunity to learn internationally and then to share that literally with the world, the UN, it is so exciting and I’m so glad that each of you had this experience with us.” Through their presentation, one of his students also expressed: “Working with IVECA has been really eye-opening into teaching us how to be resourceful by looking at the solutions others have found to problems around the world including how we can apply them to our own countries and cities.”
Passionate students from India’s Shobhit University presented their ideas for managing plastic waste to clean polluted water caused stemmed from sewage disposal. One of the solutions is the simultaneous use of the gasification process and an environmentally friendly incineration technology called EcoFlame that can use plastic waste as one of the fuels to combust waste and generate cleaner and affordable electricity. The strength of EcoFlame students found that it dramatically minimizes pollutants and carbon emissions during the incineration process. Through mentorships from industry experts and Shobhit University’s Professor Dr. Amar Garg, the students examined the feasibility of integrating the gasification and incineration processes with excitement for the potential synergy of the two. While sharing their ambitious plan for further research, the Indian team reiterated their reflection during the iGEP program, “Our team is committed to working together to take the necessary steps to remove the waste pollution.”
Guest youth speaker, Mr. Levi Grimm, Executive Director at JEE Foods and student at Miami University, enthusiastically shared about his global partnership experience. During his high school tenure five years ago, his high school students’ team turned an idea that started in an IT classroom connected to a Korea counterpart class through IVECA, into a non-profit organization run by students. Since then, their NGO has been making a significant impact throughout the United States. Inspired by SDG 1, which aims to eradicate poverty, and SDG 2, which targets ending hunger, they are addressing various interconnected facets of these two goals. Their approach begins with creating job opportunities and extends to collecting excess food and distributing it to those in need. Through these efforts, they contribute to reducing the release of methane gas into the atmosphere, which also tackles climate change. He inspired the students and attendees to embrace what could be possible, take action if they desire to pursue something, and figure it out as they go.
As the conference drew to a close, expert panelists expressed their admiration for the students' presentations and commended their swift progress in addressing the United Nations SDGs. Their earnest efforts and dedication garnered praise and left a positive impact on all attendees. Expert panelists expressed feeling inspired by the students' presentations and congratulated their initial efforts to address the United Nations SDGs in a short period of time. Dr. Hyusun Kim, Vice-Chairman of Korea Carbon Finance Association, underscored, “The root of our passion is the care we have for our communities. As you know, there are some limits, but it looks like these students love to challenge that limitation.” Mr. Thomas O’Neill, Consultant of Technology and Entrepreneurship for Universities, commented: “We need judges for competitions, and this is a perfect way for students to make connections beyond the classroom. Bringing an entrepreneurship mindset to the classroom is critical.”
Emphasizing the goal of the conference of mobilizing young students and various stakeholders to foster a collective commitment to addressing environmental challenges through global citizenship, Dr. Eunhee Jung, IVECA’s President concluded, “We should continue to seek ways to contribute to a resilient and sustainable world driven by passion, commitment, and determination of all stakeholders.”
The iGEP Virtual Conference served as a powerful reminder of the crucial role global citizenship plays in our collective efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. As students from different universities and countries came together to address local environmental issues, they exemplified the spirit of global cooperation and collaboration. As we move forward, let us draw inspiration from these young change-makers and embrace our roles as global citizens. By fostering understanding, collaboration, and a shared vision, we can build a sustainable and resilient future for generations to come. Together, we hold the key to transforming our world and achieving the ambitious goals set forth by the United Nations.