Student leadership and engagement with the Sustainable Development Goals


Since 2017, the Sustainable Development Goals Alliance (SDGA) has been operating as a student-run organization at UCalgary in partnership with the Office of Sustainability. It is designed to provide student leadership opportunities, events and campus initiatives to bolster student action towards the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With the support of Dr. Sarah Skett, PhD’14, medical student Tyler Warnock, BSc’20, conducted a co-curricular research project aimed to understand the impact and experiences of students who have participated in leadership roles within the SDGA. Due to scarcity of literature on student changemaking in higher education, this project aimed to deepen the collective knowledge held by sustainability practitioners and students on how models like the SDGA can advance institutional goals.


This qualitative study interviewed past and present student leaders within the SDGA to better understand their experiences, skills and motivations for getting involved. A thematic analysis exhibted that participating in the SDGA was beneficial for not only growing one’s understanding of the SDGs, but also the capacity to advocate, lead and engage others in conversations on the goals. Ultimately displaying that student-run spaces provide unique environments for learning and skill acquisition that are not commonly found in curricular or academic spaces. The findings from this study are planned to be published and were presented at the International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD), in September 2021.

Next Steps:

The findings from this study will be shared more broadly with the student leaders in the SDGA and with staff partners at the Office of Sustainability. Ideally sparking more interest, enthusiasm and support for growing student-run initiatives. Applying this to the campus community at the University of Calgary would see greater support for student-run initiatives and provide opportunities for students to take more active roles in advancing how the institution operationalizes the SDGs.


This research was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals.