Austin Wright
Austin Wright

Preparing the next generation to tackle global challenges is more important than ever—that’s why the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy recently launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Challenge Program for High School Students.

Designed around the United Nations' SDGs, this program informs students about global issues and equips them with the tools to make a tangible difference in their communities. We sat down and discussed the program with Assistant Professor and Program Director, Austin Wright.

What is the SDG Challenge Program, and what inspired its inception?

The program was born out of a need to integrate academic rigor with real-world application. At UChicago, we're committed to empowering students not only to understand the complexity of global challenges, but also to actively create impactful solutions. The SDG Challenge Program will allow us to foster informed and capable leaders who are ready to contribute to global sustainability goals.

What unique learning opportunities does the program offer high school students?

What sets the SDG Challenge Program apart is its comprehensive approach to education. Over three weeks, students engage deeply with public policy and global development topics, work on hands-on projects, and receive mentorship from seasoned professionals. Through lectures and workshops, students gain foundational knowledge and experience, all the while receiving guidance from practitioners who have worked on policy issues firsthand.

How does the program equip students with the skills to become future leaders and decision-makers? 

Critical thinking and effective communication are the pillars of policymaking and leadership in any context. Central to the program is its focus on developing these leadership skills and applying them to craft well-informed, evidence-based solutions to global problems. The program also emphasizes the importance of empathy and collaboration, fostering a cohort of leaders who are as compassionate as they are competent.

What are the expected outcomes for students who complete the program?

The SDG Challenge Program graduates don't just leave with a set of skills and accomplishments—they leave with a sense of hope and optimism for their future. Tangible outputs like policy memos provide students with concrete evidence of their academic readiness, which can be pivotal for college admissions or internships. Furthermore, the program awards a certificate from the University of Chicago, endorsing each student’s capabilities in addressing global challenges. Beyond these immediate benefits, participants gain lasting access to a network of peers and professionals, enhancing their career prospects and providing ongoing opportunities for collaboration on global projects. This program is about the present and building a brighter future.

As the challenges of tomorrow loom large, programs like the SDG Challenge are essential for preparing students to meet them head-on. For young scholars looking to make a difference, this program offers an unparalleled opportunity to start on the path toward becoming a global citizen, ready to contribute to a more just and sustainable world.