Implementation of sustainable development goals and mountain targets in particular through student engaged learning

Baktybek Abdrisaev, Rusty Butler, Kimberly Williamson, Yanko Dzhukev, Damon Ashcraft, Samuel Elzinga and Andrew Jensen

Utah Valley University, USA

Three Utah Valley University (UVU) students spoke through the student engaged learning initiative during general debates at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations (UN) on July 19, 2018.

The HLPF is the main UN platform on sustainable development to follow up and review the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the global level. This year, 47 countries presented Voluntary National Reviews on how they implemented six particular SDGs in their respective countries among the 17 adopted by the UN. A handful of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in consultative status with ECOSOC were selected to speak on those topics as well, including the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (RANS) among them, which has a general consultative status. (See:   Thanks to the partnership between UVU and RANS, which was developed as a result of student engaged learning model, students were able to address the highest gathering of the UN on implementation of SDGs.   

SDG 6 and SDG 15 among the six SDGs under HLPF review include three mountain targets. It provided UVU students an opportunity to raise their voices in support of mountain communities, who are among the poorest and most-neglected globally. “Climate change and migration make their living conditions even worse,” they said in their oral statement. “An estimated 39 percent of the mountain population in developing countries are vulnerable to food insecurity, according to a recent study of the FAO-UN and the Mountain Partnership (MP) Secretariat.”

They also highlighted how the UVU student-engaged learning model has involved both traditional and non-traditional students in an inclusive way to promote the UN sustainable mountain development (SMD) agenda in Utah, North America and globally since 2006. As a core of the developed co-curricular model, students gain professional skills and experiences by addressing real-world problems of mountain communities through the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of clubs at UVU, with a faculty member serving as their mentor. (See:

The UN SMD agenda promotes student involvement across the entire UVU campus to better local communities across the Wasatch Front, matching UVU’s tradition of serving local communities as a technical college since its founding in 1941. It also encourages students to promote Utah’s model of economic and mountain development through the platform of the United Nations while also advocating for more sustainable practices back home. Utah’s model of economic development is among the best in the nation in a number of categories. It provides students an important opportunity to share with global audiences the experiences of the first pioneers, who laid a solid foundation for that model. In addition, they share how local communities in Utah address emerging challenges like climate change or environmental conservation.      

This year through student engagement, UIMF members have successfully advocated for mountain communities and promoted Utah model during the 53rd session of the UN Commission on Social Development in January-February (See:    and during the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March. (See:  They reported about hosting the International Women of the Mountains (WOM) conferences  under the umbrella of the United Nations Mountain Partnership. The 2016 UN Secretary-General’s Report on Sustainable Mountain Development featured UIMF members for hosting on their own the fourth international WOM conference in October 7-9, 2015. (See: WOM conferences became a major forum in the entire region to advocate for mountain women under the UN umbrella and to share the contributions of local women in sustainable development in the state of Utah.  Since 2007, through the model students raised and contributed $250,000 to the promotion of the SMD agenda and implementation of three mountain targets both in Utah and globally.

UVU’s success in advocating for mountain communities through the student engaged learning model since 2007 demonstrates that students, including non-traditional ones are able and must play an active role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It can be used by universities in rural and mountainous states worldwide to provide similar benefits to students, and to transform mountain communities towards sustainable and resilient societies, a core philosophy of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, teaches sustainable mountain development through student engaged learning at UVU since 2011, was Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to the USA and Canada during 1997-2005; Dr. Rusty Butler, was Associate VP for International Affairs and Diplomacy at UVU during 1992-2016 and is currently the main focal point at the United Nations for the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, an NGO in general Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC; Kimberly Williamson, as Administrative Support III, History & Political Science at UVU contributes to the model since 2013;  Yanko Dzhukev, graduated UVU in 2017 and is a Liaison for UIMF at the Mountain Partnership under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Damon Ashcraft, Samuel Elzinga and Andrew Jensen, UVU political science students who spoke at general debates at the HLPF 2018.

Suggested Citation:

Abdrisaev, B., Butler, R., Williamson, K., Dzhukev, Y., Ashcraft, D., Elzinga, S., and Jensen, A. (2018). Implementation of sustainable development goals and mountain targets in particular through student engaged learning, Higher Education Tomorrow, Volume 5, Article 6,

Copyright © [2018] Baktybek Abdrisaev, Rusty Butler, Kimberly Williamson, Yanko Dzhukev, Damon Ashcraft, Samuel Elzinga and Andrew Jensen


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and as such do not necessarily represent the position(s) of other professionals or any institution.