LAWRENCE — On July 6, the University of Kansas became the next institution to join United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), a global network of more than 1,500 institutions of higher education. Both in their daily work and in activities purposefully tied to UNAI, member institutions commit to furthering United Nations priorities, including educational access and sustainability.
The University Honors Program partnered with the Center for Global & International Studies on the UNAI application, and both will serve as KU’s institutional connection to UNAI. In a joint statement, the units pointed to existing efforts and long-standing values as elements of the university’s strong case for membership: “We used our respective units’ deep investment in student-centered inquiry, and engagement on the topics of racial equity and its interconnections with global health and environmental justice, as evidence of KU's commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
Charlie Bankart, senior internationalization officer in KU’s Office of the Provost, praised the units’ work.
“Their collaboration and the way they have leveraged KU’s broader successful initiatives and local community partnerships to gain this recognition and access is a terrific example of how we can move the dial forward,” Bankart said.
To maintain membership, KU will submit an annual report to UNAI detailing university activities the previous year that aligned with UN goals and mandates, including their sustainable development goals, or SGDs. This list must also include an activity that specifically addressed a single UNAI principle or SGD.
One honors program initiative that already meets this requirement is Common Cause. Launched in early 2020, Common Cause includes a two-day, student-led virtual symposium, during which honors students, faculty members and staff members explore different facets of a single, urgent topic. The symposium is followed by a semester of related experiential learning activities.
Last year’s focus on climate justice led Common Cause participants Eleazar Abraham and Sam Butler to form a local partnership with Friends of the Kaw, with the hopes of undertaking a project related to the Kansas River and its local health and environmental implications.
Abraham and Butler then identified UNAI’s Millennium Fellowship program as a promising resource for their plans. Offered by UNAI, the program involves leadership training for students seeking to create change in their community.
UNAI membership now allows any KU student to proceed with a Millennium Fellow application, an effort that Abraham and Butler are coordinating with assistance from Honors Faculty Fellow Kathryn Rhine, associate professor in the departments of Geography & Atmospheric Sciences and African & African-American Studies.
Rhine said she is thrilled by the students’ initiative as well as their community-building instinct.
“The two of them immediately began to build a network of students who share similar perspectives on the global applications of medicine, public health, engineering and other professional trajectories,” Rhine said.
Other benefits of UNAI membership are accessible to any university department or program, and include promotion of UNAI-aligned efforts, access to UNAI’s network of participating institutions, and connection to UN regional offices and educational resources. Units interested in UNAI affiliation should email Rhine at email@example.com.