On September 15th, six students representing four Georgia universities presented the sustainability-themed work they have undertaken as members of the ATL UNU RCE Youth Network. A United Nations University Regional Center of Expertise is a network of institutions and leaders from across higher education, business, and nonprofit sectors who work together to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the regional and local level. With six RCEs in the U.S. and 156 around the world, there are many benefits to supporting collaboration at home, as part of a global movement. The ATL UNU RCE will become an official member of the global RCE network in early 2018, but the students of the Youth Network are already in motion. Here they reflect on why, despite the demands of courses and work, they put time, energy, and passion into the ATL RCE.
Delaney Rickles, Sophomore, Civil Engineering Major, Georgia Tech
Joey Buehler, Senior, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Major/Spanish Minor, Georgia Tech
Michael Bryan, Sophomore, Environmental Engineering Major, Georgia Tech
Sienna Nordquist, Sophomore, International Studies and Economics, Emory
Johali Sotelo, Senior, Biology and Environmental Studies/Sustainability, Agnes Scott
Why are you involved in the ATL RCE Youth Network?
Delaney: As a student assistant for the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain at Georgia Tech, I have followed the progress of the ATL RCE application process up close over the last few months. The Youth Network can play a key role in this exchange of knowledge and I think that the creation of a formal network for students to reach different sectors for which they may be interested in working is quite valuable.
Joey: The human race is more and more a race between education and catastrophe, so I am on the side of education. In the beginning I was looking for opportunities to get involved and boost my resume, but my passion has grown exponentially since then and the possibility of having a positive impact drives me to help build something new.
Michael: When I first came to Georgia Tech, I was an Aerospace Engineering major; upon realizing my passion for environmental sustainability, I changed my major to Environmental Engineering, so that I could concentrate the work I did on improving my community. I also recognized the advantages that a major network holds, and did not want to miss out on the opportunity to meet other college students with a similar passion to myself.
Sienna: I am involved in the Atlanta RCE Youth Network, because I have a leadership role on Emory's campus for sustainability, and the Youth Network of the RCE has great potential to connect young sustainability leaders from around ATL and accelerate our positive transformation through networking, communication, and solution support. And while I have been, and am, a part of a few international youth networks, localized action is where the bulk of the hard work in changing our communities for the better takes place. Therefore, I am honored to have the chance to help my new home-Emory and Atlanta-continue to lead the way in sustainable practices.
Johali: Being involved within my community is something I have always been passionate about. I first heard to the Youth Network through the Atlanta Student Sustainability Council. It was at the first meeting that I felt the exhilarating passion that other university students had towards making Atlanta a more equitable and sustainable city. I knew I wanted to be a part of the movement that would ripple throughout the city of Atlanta.
What do you want students who are not yet involved to know about the RCE?
Delaney: Networking is so key, not only to receiving a job but also to continuing to grow and foster interest in others throughout a career or personal passion. The vision of the ATL RCE is to connect citizens from all different backgrounds to create a more sustainable, and inherently more just, city. This connection is such a great way to support and find supporters for your career, personal projects, and passions!
Joey: Now is the time to take a stand and make a difference. Any difference you can make starts with you and who knows where it could lead you. The RCE is a great place to find out.
Sienna: I would want students who are not yet involved in the RCE to know that everyone is welcome! While most student and community activists for sustainability have a background in environmental or natural sciences, sustainable development is such a multi-faceted and intersectional issue that we need students from nursing schools, law schools, and humanities programs to join the conversation and to aid the process of scaling and implementing solutions.
Johali: I want them to know that as a college student, they have more power than they think. The have an entire institution supporting the ideas they have that will push society forward. I would like them to know that they are now in a changing city, and they direction of that change depends on what the city’s citizens (that is themselves) take action upon. Finally, I would want them to be motivated and take action for the cause they are passionate about, and if they don't have one, to go out and look for one.
Do you feel you have the capacity to make lasting change in our society? Why? How?
Delaney: Absolutely! I am a fan of the trickle-down effect: no matter how small your actions are they are going to make a change to some degree. Becoming involved with the RCE even as a general member helps disseminate information to others and acting on a larger degree scale to shape the direction of the network helps everybody else to do the same. This concept follows for everyday actions.
Joey: If I don't at least try, who will? Currently I make change by living the ideals that will support a sustainable life and exposing them to my friends to show that the way of sustainability is a way of happiness and peace. I make change by organizing in my community to identify and attack issues whether singular or chronic. I make change by educating myself so I can better contribute to a more sustainable world.
Sienna: Yes, I definitely feel like I have the capacity to make a lasting change on society. This optimism in the change-making power of each individual stems from a personal recognition that most of the worlds current and past renowned leaders, from Malala to Nelson Mandela, recognized problems in their local community and used their voices to start a chain impact for social change that had implications far beyond the initial scope of their leadership. And while this international impact is inspiring, our actions do not have to change the entire world to make a difference. As long as our RCE Youth Network works to strengthen the Atlanta region, and in particular our youth, a lasting impact will have been made on our community and in the lives of our generation. I think one of the greatest strengths of the youth generation is how we want to share stories and ideas with each other, whether it be through social media, in our college classes, or through programs such as the RCE. By connecting youth interested in sustainability, I believe the Youth Network will naturally aggregate our campuses capabilities and individual solution ideas and tactics so that all sectors in Atlanta can work more efficiently to achieve sustainable ends.
Johali: Just as an ecosystem is dynamic, so is a society. The lasting change everyone yearns for is easily grasped by helping the person next to them. Often the heroic image of single-handedly saving the world is all that people strive for. However, making a lasting change in our society can mean giving compassion to a person that needs it most. People and nature are what make a society up. So yes, I know I have the capacity to make a lasting change in my society. I know that by loving, and devoting time to what I am most passionate about, that is homelessness and conservation, I will make a difference to bird or a person. I also know that I am not a super human, I am an ordinary person out to make a lasting change one tree and person at a time. Anyone can do it!
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