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Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education

Colorado State University (
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    Description
    Intro

    Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education (YEAH) is a network of institutions in four countries (USA, Australia, Peru, United Kingdom) focused on engaging undergraduate and graduate institutions in sustainable development goals. The network jointly teaches an online class where students work in teams on SDG projects and present those projects at the COP or via a virtual global conference. In addition, the network designs modules of instruction each focused on an individual SDG to provide curriculum for other institutions of higher education teaching sustainability.

    Description

    1. Engaging youth as future leaders in the implementation of the SDGs as part of their educational pathways in higher education 2. Provide shareable curriculum models among institutions of higher education on learning modules focused on SDGs and learning metrics 3. Provide a platform for students to develop their own research questions and action items around climate issues in a multicultural, multi-institutional partnership. 4. Create an innovative partnership across academic institutions with a common goal of integrating the SDGs into science curriculum in higher education.

    Contribution to SDG Implementation

    Science instruction in many academic institutions does not include inquiry into the SDGs and students lack the knowledge on how to implement the targets and objectives of the SDGS. The YEAH Network is focused on institutions of higher education to provide learning metrics, curriculum, multicultural learning platforms and innovative and accessible module designs. YEAH overall objective is to provide students with the tools to be engaged in the science enterprise with a firm understanding of the SDGs and how their targets and goals are part of that enterprise.

    Implementation methodologies

    The YEAH partnership started in the summer of 2019 with a joint class held by several institutions who designed an online module-based class on the sustainable development goals. Students worked in teams with their peer colleagues from different campuses to choose topics and address metrics around a sustainable development goal. For example, one team chose SDG2 on Zero Hunger and explored the issue of food insecurity among the different campuses. Within the USA, a significant percentage of students--both undergraduate and graduate--are food insecure and have difficulty accessing resources. This SDG study highlighted this common issue among academic institutions that has largely been over looked within the USA. Student teams presented at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in several venues including the US DESA Pavilion, press conferences and side events. The experience provided to the students was critical to get the youth enagaged especially those within the USA. The YEAH partnership has grown to include institutions from four countries and students present their work at a global virtual conference in advance of the COP as well as at the COP itself. Student learning and progress is monitoring through a series of assessment tools common in higher education institutions including learning assessments, evaluations of products (from student teams) and surveys on student engagement. The focus on the YEAH network is on students already enrolled in higher education; however students often choose projects that work with communities or other outlets as part of their YEAH experience.

    Results

    The YEAH partnership is in its first full year of implementation after a pilot effort. Fifteen institutions are involved in the YEAH partnership from four countries. 190 students participated in the first global virtual conference in December with 12 concurrent sessions, each designed after a specific SDGs (a couple were combined together such as SDG14 and SDG15). During the conference, students conducted surveys on youth climate action (over 200 completed surveys received from conference and associated classes) and measured youth views of the SDGS. The results are USA-focused and highlight the critical need to get USA students engaged in the global conversation on the SDGs as the major of the students were unaware of the SDGs before the start of the class and conference. The second phase of YEAH is the completion of shareable modules focused on the SDGS that have clear learning metrics along with instructional materials. The first modules was designed based on SDG6; however the goal of the YEAH project is to release modules on all 17 SDGs by the end of the grant in 2024.

    Factors and Constraints

    YEAH is funded by a starting grant from the US National Science Foundation to Colorado State University and provides the Human Resources, academic materials to launch the initial network. The goal of YEAH is to grow the network among different institutions and global regions so students experience working with and learning alongside peers from different cultural perspectives.

    Sustainability and replicability

    YEAH uses a module design to create transportable curriculum elements that can be shared among other institutions of higher education. The goal of YEAH is to replicate learning objectives across institutions that tie to the SDGs and to demonstrate how SDGs can be integrated into the science curriculum in higher education. In addition, to create a global workforce on sustainability, students need experience in working on a global stage with peers from different cultural backgrounds and experiences. One element of YEAH is the team work that is conducted in virtual learning spaces but presented in real time at a COP.

    COVID-19 Impact

    YEAH was envisioned as a virtual network from the start given the spread of institutions across different global regions. The COVID impact forced the cancellation of the actual COP26 in Glasgow for one year which impacted the students enrolled in the 2020 academic year. However, YEAH designed a virtual conference that 200 students participated in and shared the results of their team work.

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    This initiative does not yet fulfil the SMART criteria.
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    Timeline
    24 August 2020 (start date)
    31 December 2023 (date of completion)
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