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By Brian O'Callaghan

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Two weeks ago, Colleen, Zac, Cassie, Britt, Samanvay, Jaime, Dr Sakhaee and I departed on a journey which would take us to the literal opposite side of the world. Our journey would see us meet inspired young people from every corner of the globe on the United Nations General Assembly floor, engage in collaborative leadership conversations with our colleagues at Penn State University and learn from experts on how to bring real positive action for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of course, our trip was also rounded out by exploring the city that never sleeps and engaging in the ‘cultural experiences’ made famous by American TV.

Upon arriving in the US, our first port of call was Pennsylvania State University and in particular the Penn State Engineering Leadership Development Program. Penn State boasts one of the longest-running engineering leadership programs in the world and has been a collaborative partner of our Faculty of Engineering and IT over the past year. Dr Mike Erdman, professor and program director met us at the gates and for three much too short hours we absorbed all that we could from the four academics who run the program. It was then our turn to share about the development of the Leadership Program at The University of Sydney and to expound upon proposals for future collaboration between our institutions – watch this space, there are many exciting initiatives coming to you soon!

After spending the following morning touring the ridiculous Penn State campus (they have the third largest sporting stadium in the world and make our Camperdown campus look tiny!), we headed into the Big Apple. My oh my, New York is just next-level cool. Although it was 30+ degrees, none of us could cease looking up at the towers which cast their shadows in every direction. The imposing sounds and aromas were an overwhelming assault to the senses whilst the constant movement of hordes in suits was enough to make anyone feel insignificant.

Our three days attending the Youth Assembly at the United Nations are some which I will assuredly never forget through the course of my entire life. The theme of the assembly was “turning vision into action” and this is what we worked to do through a plethora of keynote presentations and breakout sessions.

I particularly enjoyed discussions on the SDGs of ‘No Poverty’ and ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ – which are both highly relevant to the volunteer initiatives which I am involved in. We were told time and time again that we are “the first generation that can end poverty and the last generation that can end climate change” and I think by the end of the week we realised what a huge responsibility that really is.

I learnt that the SDGs really are the world’s own goals for the future and that all of us and all of our organisations should be incessant in pursuing them. Yet in stark opposition to this, we didn’t meet any other engineering students at the Assembly – zero world-builders looking to enact change. I have believed for a long time that the global systemic lack of scientists and engineers working in policy and diplomacy is negatively affecting development and limiting positive economic outcomes. Our time at the UN has infinitely strengthened that view within my heart. If you are a STEMM student with passions for creating positive change, please act with us – we need you!

To sum up, I just had one of the most unforgettable weeks of my life and everything’s changing now that I’m back in Sydney. My involvement in Engineers Without Borders has been completely re-contextualised and I’m looking to start up a new development-focused student initiative within the Sydney Uni Student Leadership Academy. In addition to all of this, I’ve made lifelong friends and new valuable contacts from countries all over the world. I only hope that others are fortunate enough to share in these types of experiences next time around.

The Student Leadership Travel grant supported seven students for this trip and was proudly sponsored by the Faculty of Engineering & Information Technologies at the University of Sydney.

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