Over the inter-semester break, I completed the Worldwide Universities Network’s virtual course: The World’s Biggest Problems and How to Influence the Solutions, facilitated by the University of York. Participants were selected from the collection of universities that belong to the network. This meant that I collaborated with students from Uganda, Taiwan, Canada, Ireland, the United States, and Auckland.
Although the programme is typically run in-person, COVID restrictions meant we were zoom-bound. In this case, being online was a good thing because, as well as working with international students, I got to hear from academics from around the world, not just the University of York. The first of my three highlights from the programme was the quality of the academics and speakers who gave keynote lectures and masterclasses on the different Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put forward by the United Nations in 2015. All of those who presented had a vast array of experience in their respective fields, not only conducting research but serving as expert advisers to the UN, government and holding positions on various boards.
One of the speakers, for example, was Professor Kate Pickett. As a Health Sciences student, it was thrilling to hear her lecture on ‘Reducing Inequality’ and ask her questions in a live Q&A. We also had talks on involving business and government in the SDGs and on leadership and communication styles. Identifying and engaging various stakeholders is essential to mobilising action, so it was advantageous the programme gave us some tools to do just that in the ‘real world.’
The second highlight of the programme for me was the live seminar sessions. After the days’ talks, which were asynchronous, the participants came together on zoom to discuss what we had learned and to challenge each other with questions. Not only were these seminars intellectually stimulating, but they were also a great way to hear the perspectives of students from different countries which have unique political systems and social values that might help or hinder SDG-related action.
My third highlight of the programme was the group project. For the assignment, two other students from Taiwan and Uganda and I had to prepare and present a three-minute pitch on SDG 3 – good health and well-being. Within the pitch, we had to give a brief overview of the goal, including its targets and indicators and offer suggestions to help achieve the goal. We had invaluable help from an academic mentor who, with their expertise, helped us to shape our presentation and its content. While managing our different time zones was challenging, we quickly established a routine and produced a high-quality piece of work in two weeks. It was fascinating to reflect on our communication styles and how our different cultures influenced the way we worked together.
Overall, completing the virtual programme was a great way to spend two weeks of my break. I appreciated that it reminded me of the bigger picture and made my day to day problems seem trivial. It satisfied my desire to apply what I have learned throughout my degree to real-world problems – not just assignments. The programme also enabled me to make international connections with like-minded people