UN Junior Ambassadors for Sustainable Development Visit MIT

Lauren Hinkel | EAPS News
Thursday, October 11, 2018

Flierl helps educate the next generation of global leaders on oceans, climate and the interconnectivity of ecosystems, as well as inspire them to tackle worldwide problems of sustainability.

Over the summer, Glenn Flierl, professor of oceanography in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, hosted high-school aged students participating in the “UN Junior Ambassadors for Sustainable Development and SE4All”, introducing the next generation of global leaders to atmospheric, oceanic and climate science happening at MIT.

The UN Junior Ambassadors for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) program is designed to inspire young people to become agents of change and thought leaders for the future, promoting sustainability around the world. These junior ambassadors will become part of the growing human capital, contributing efforts towards the work necessary to achieve the UN's 2030 sustainable development goals (SDG) agenda. The program is a component of the international nonprofit World Organization for Sustainability Leadership’s (WOSL) mission, which partners with the UN, to educate local and international high school students on sustainability and to achieve the milestones set forth by the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Charter. WOSL fosters “change through a unique pedagogy that includes self-directed inquiry and firsthand experience performing international aid in the rural and developing world. From the deserts of Sub-Saharan Africa to the jungles of South America, WOSL candidates provide expertise, knowledge, and leadership for those communities that need to transform. Through this unique experience, serving candidates are cultivated into change agents that will provide the capacity building and scaling up of future world leaders needed to achieve the 2030 targets.”

Hosted by Paul Bogaardt and Lynne Chang at Claremont Graduate University in California and partnering with international organizations such as the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS), the program empowers, engages, and excites students about sustainability. It connects classrooms with communities through capacity building and technology transfer partnerships. These networks enhance student learning, address critical objectives and encourage students to be active citizens in their local, national and global communities.

WOSL's 2018 Summer cohort experienced training in three modules. The group first visited Claremont Graduate University in California to learn about SDG goals and the developing world, international relations and policy restructuring, and trends in human capital.

Next, the group visited the United States’ east coast with excursions to NASA, MIT, and the UN Headquarters. While at the space agency, the cohort learned about space exploration and missions planned by the organization. The experience was followed by a trip to MIT, where attendees participated in a thought-provoking and insightful day of instruction on atmospheric and oceanic sciences with EAPS professor Glenn Flierl and MIT-WHOI Joint Program graduate students Gualtiero Spiro Jaeger and Christina Hernadez. Using the iGlobe, a large spherical display, and various data sets, Flierl was able to illustrate crucial ocean and atmospheric currents, show how climate change impacts them, and explain how human activity influences our planet, which in turn, affects our way of life. Shortly thereafter, the students traveled to the UN in New York to look at how data science is being used to achieve the SDGs for 2030.

One participant from California was impressed by the power the iGlobe presentation had to use data and communicate environmental problems.

Among the data it could display, CO2 particulates were of my utmost interest. As a student who is both interested in computer and environmental science, I was absolutely fascinated. Not only could I see the flow of the dangerous particulates released by human activity and how it affects other countries, but it pinpointed the geographical areas that required the most attention since one of the biggest obstacles of solving a problem is deciding where to start. In addition to its capabilities to target specific areas of pollution or any other inconsistencies, the place it could hold in education is beyond imaginable. Most, if not all schools use books to teach the students, but to have a 3D model of the globe along with selectable data that is live, to say it is prodigious piece of tech is an understatement. I am excited for the future of spatial visualization that technology like iGlobe will pave.

Eventually, they headed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the “international service learning” component of the curriculum. Here, they collaborated with the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS), visited the African Union Headquarters and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and met the president of Ethiopia.

Another student, interested in aerospace engineering and space exploration from Ethiopia, made connections between ocean and space research.

Prof. Flierl's lectures enabled me to watch our world from a unique point of view. With the visualized data displayed on the iGlobe, I have learned how ocean currents flow and affect migration. Prof. Flierl’s lectures showed us how plastic pollution is affecting our aquatic biome and his graduate students shared their experiences in different areas of research like ocean currents from monsoon and tidal ecosystems. I was even afforded the opportunity to show my research to Prof. Flier, which is about space debris elimination and received professional advice to advance my research.

After the success of this year’s inaugural visit, the UN Junior Ambassadors are planning to return next year. “As a whole, Prof. Flierl and his students taught me how to tackle global problems and the solutions needed to foster sustainable leadership to create a better world with less problems,” the second commented. “Finally, MIT is the right place to do that. A place where people unite and work for the better world with enhanced technology and society.”

Photos: courtesy of Paul Bogaardt.