News: Predient Cabrera Introduces Committment to UN Sustainable Development Goals; Modern Languages Chair Anna Stenport Moderates Discussion

Sustainable Development Goals

Posted September 14, 2020

On Sept. 10, President Ángel Cabrera hosted a kickoff event introducing Georgia Tech's committment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to campus. Modern Languages Chair Anna Stenport, chair of the School of Modern Languages and co-director of the Atlanta Global Studies Center, moderated the event's panel discussion, signaling the school and the College's centrality in the initiative.

Cabrera highlighted the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), discussed their relevance to the Institute, and emphasized how Tech can lead the region in implementing and advancing the goals.

“One of one of the first things I did soon after arriving at Georgia Tech was to invite the broader community ... to come together to develop a new strategic plan to lay out our collective dreams for the next decade,” Cabrera said. “We began by asking the most profound questions... Out of those questions it became important to try to distill in one phrase what we do as a community: to improve the human condition. If we are committed to improving the human condition, then we should embrace the SDGs to guide our actions as a university.”

Anna Stenport explains that in terms of the Modern Languages, but her comments are relevant for the wider Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts community, as well as Georgia Tech.

“The Sustainable Development Goals provide a roadmap for the future. Cross-cultural understanding and global competencies are critical to ensuring that the SDGs can be purposefully integrated into everyday life on campus and beyond. The School of Modern Languages and the Atlanta Global Studies Center value the implementation of the SDGs as catalysts for organizational transformation to advance the public good. Reflecting events of the recent months, supporting social, cultural and environmental sustainability has become ever more important in the light of a global pandemic, increasingly evident effects of the climate crisis, and the fight for racial justice and equality.”

Panelists for the discussion moderated by Stenport were John McArthur, senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at The Brookings Institution; Wendy Purcell, research scholar with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and president, vice-chancellor, and chief executive emerita with Plymouth University, UK; Sarah Lee Kjellberg, head of U.S. iShares Sustainable ETFs at BlackRock; Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Spelman College and co-founder of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance; Isabella Stubbs, environmental engineering undergraduate at Georgia Tech and co-lead, RCE Greater Atlanta Youth Network; and Joyelle Harris, senior academic professional in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Engineering for Social Innovation Center.

The SDGs were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They address the world’s most monumental challenges, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, and peace and justice. Some of the objectives are to improved industry, innovation, and infrastructure; affordable and clean energy; and sustainable cities and communities. The SDGs appear by name in the Institute’s new strategic plan as long-term goals that should guide teaching, research, and operations.

“There is a way for everyone to get involved, and that moment starts right now,” Joyelle Harris said. “The first way is to add to our sustainable development goal asset map, which lists assets that are connected to each of the goals.”

The map is an online effort to identify places, programs, projects, organizations, and web-based resources that Georgia Tech can deploy toward achieving the SDGs. The mapping activity will help create an initial list of assets that will become the starting point of 17 Zooms, a virtual version of the 17 rooms concept, which convenes 17 distinct groups of specialists to identify high-impact objectives that can be met in 18 months. To see the SDGs and SDG asset mapping, click here.

The full event can be viewed here. Selected comments from the panelists are below.

“I am confident that our generation can be the one to make substantial progress on achieving sustainable development. In fact, I believe it is our responsibility, through personal lifestyle choices or through career choices, to contribute positively toward sustainable development. Students are looking for ways to integrate the SDGs into our everyday learning and for opportunities to break down silos and barriers.”  —Isabella Stubbs, Georgia Tech

“I think about it from a community-based perspective. To me, it boils down to three things: UN collaboration, meaningful partnerships, and authentic community engagement. There is so much promise in locally grounded partnerships. There’s so much promise around using senior design projects and map projects in architecture, in civil and environmental engineering, and in courses across disciplines to help solve some of the challenges that communities are facing.”  —Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, Spelman College

“A lot of people typically have three basic concerns about SDGs: It’s just too much, it’s too far off and I have immediate concerns, and I’m not the UN. One answer is to not ask everyone to do everything, but to bring together all the issues that we already care about. Each stakeholder already cares about at least one issue as their most important issue. And instead of thinking about just what needs to be done by 2030, why don't we think about what could be done in the next 12 to 18 months to bend the curve.”  —John McArthur, The Brookings Institute

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