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30 December 2020 Sustainable Mountain Development Advocacy Through Student Engaged Learning by Observing International Mountain Day: The Case of Utah Valley University
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Abstract

Target 4.7 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including through education for sustainable development. To implement this, students at Utah Valley University (UVU) advocate for sustainable mountain development (SMD) in Utah and elsewhere through a student engaged learning (SEL) model. SEL encourages students to solve real-world problems as a group, with a faculty member serving as a mentor. This paper discusses the implementation of a semester-based SEL initiative to observe International Mountain Day (IMD) and analyzes its outcomes. Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at UVU, is an extracurricular part of the university's SEL model that involves students, especially nontraditional or adult learners, in SMD activities beyond a single semester. Adult students enhance or change their careers while taking care of families. They have diverse experiences, maturity, and responsibilities. To overcome adult students' reluctance or inability to engage in club activities, the model provides incentives, such as flexible activity schedules, integration of their experience into group efforts, and recognition at the United Nations level. Through the curricular programs, mentors build stronger ties with adult students and encourage them to join Utah International Mountain Forum. Since 2010, students have been encouraged to contribute experience and initiatives, solicit funds, and gain recognition for SMD advocacy as part of IMD at UVU. Our assessment shows that students learn how to tie their own experiences to SMD, implement initiatives collaboratively, build partnerships on different levels, and then use accumulated knowledge for engagement in SMD activities beyond the semester. Thus, UVU's model of observing IMD could serve as another important United Nations experiential learning initiative.

Introduction

Efforts of Utah Valley University to promote sustainable mountain development

Utah is a mountainous state. Its mean elevation stands at 1860 m, the third highest in the United States (Sawe 2019). Utah Valley University (UVU) is the largest public university in Utah, enrolling more than 40,000, mainly undergraduate, students. UVU was founded in 1941 as a technical school. Since becoming a university in 2008, UVU has enhanced students' capacity in the field of sustainable mountain development (SMD). Through its dual-mission education, UVU today implements the idea that a single institution can serve mainly local communities by combining a community college with a focus on vocational and technical training and a baccalaureate program (UVU n.d.). Of the students at UVU, 88% are Utah residents; 19% are students of color, with Hispanic/Latino students making up the largest group; and 61% are employed locally (UVU 2019a). Adult students (also sometimes referred to as nontraditional students) make up 30% of the UVU student body. Of these, 81% work, 17% require English remediation, and 17% support at least 1 child (Tuminez 2020). Their ages range between 25 and 75 years, and many are enhancing or changing careers (Pelletier 2010). This range reflects a more widespread pattern: adult students represent 35–40% of the student population in the United States and Europe (Hauschildt et al 2015; Hittepole 2015).

Since 1999, UVU has partnered with the International University of Kyrgyzstan (IUK) to share Utah experiences in SMD and explore UVU's contribution to them through educational programs. Since 2006, UVU has promoted SMD by implementing the United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution proclaiming 2002 the International Year of Mountains, which recommended that interested institutions (1) join the Mountain Partnership (MP); (2) support, including financially, programs resulting from the International Year of Mountains; and (3) organize UN International Mountain Day (IMD) events, on 11 December, at all levels to highlight the importance of SMD (UN 2003).

For this purpose, UVU joined the MP, hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), in 2006; it was the first North American university to do so. The MP is an alliance of approximately 400 members (as of 1 June 2020) that work toward achieving sustainable development in mountains around the world. Members are governments, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other major groups from civil society and the private sector. The United States has not joined the MP, and North America was represented in 2006 by a handful of NGOs. MP membership provided an opportunity for UVU to involve faculty and students inclusively in an SMD agenda that also complements the university's dual mission. It allowed the university to raise awareness about SMD in Utah and North America, more generally, in order to recruit new MP members who will fill the existing void and contribute to SMD globally.

In March 2007, UVU and IUK cohosted the first international Women of the Mountains Conference (WOMC) in Orem, UT, USA, as a major initiative to implement the 2003 UN General Assembly resolution (Ru