Impact of the SDGA on Student Experiences

Overview

The Sustainable Development Goals Alliance (SDGA) is a student-led organization at the University of Calgary that seeks to promote student engagement and cross-campus collaboration in the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Founded in 2017, the SDGA operates out of the Office of Sustainability and is involved in planning the annual SDG Summit, organizing training workshops, and facilitating connections between student groups on campus.

This co-curricular research project was a collaboration between UCalgary students and alumni who previously helped co-found the SDGA, in an effort to understand the impact of the organization on student development and to inform the future directions and growth of the SDGA. The project was supervised by Dr. Sarah Skett, a sustainability consultant and previous faculty member in Sustainability Studies.

 

Outcomes

This study used a qualitative methodology to explore the impact of the SDGA on student knowledge and capacity to advance the SDGs. Both semi-structured interviews and digital surveys were used to capture the insights of students who had engaged with the SDGA through events, social media, and/or collaboration.

The findings from this study demonstrated how participant engagement with the SDGA led to deeper understandings of the SDG framework, new connections, and changes in thinking and behaviour. Many participants felt a sense of inspiration and hope, and were able to carry their learning forward by pursuing SDG-related opportunities or careers, attending additional learning events, or participating in advocacy.

This project is part of a larger, two-phase study looking to understand the experiences of students and student leaders in the SDGA. The findings from both phases will be used to explore how student-led initiatives can foster empowered leaders, increase community awareness, and help support institutional efforts to advance sustainability and the SDGs. The research team is currently preparing a manuscript for publication, and will be presenting the findings of these research projects in an oral presentation at the International Conference on Sustainable Development in September 2021.

 

Next steps

The findings from this project will contribute to the collective understanding of student-led initiatives and their role in advancing SDG implementation in higher education. By demonstrating the value and unique attributes of student-led initiatives, the research team hopes to foster greater support and investment into student engagement for SDG implementation on campuses across Canada.

The findings of this study also identified strengths and limitations of the SDGA, which will be used to inform strategic planning and continual growth of the organization. 

This research was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals.