Sustainable Futures in Focus – Global Partner Student Research Poster Competition and Forum

Dr Tracy Scurry, Newcastle University Business School

Dr Heather Brown, Population Health Sciences

What did you do?

We worked with 4 other international universities to raise awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Sustainable Development amongst students and facilitate the exchange of ideas between students across the globe.

Reduced Inequalities

Each institution ran parallel research poster competitions to showcase student led research related to UN Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reduce inequalities within and among countries.

The winning submissions in each of the categories (UG and PG) were selected to be presented and discussed at a virtual global online forum. This was open for anyone to attend and join the discussions.


Who is involved?

The five institutions are: Newcastle University, Indiana University–Purdue University (IUPUI), Hamburg, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and Moi. This was led by IUPUI. The competition at Newcastle University was organised by Tracy Scurry and Heather Brown with support from colleagues in the International Office and members of the SDG committee -Naomi Oosman-Watts and Phil McGowan.

How did you do it?

The poster competition, developed in conjunction with Indiana University Purdue University, provided students a unique opportunity  to showcase their related research. It was open to all Newcastle University students, and posters were judged by members of the University’s SDG Committee.  The students with the winning submissions in each of the categories were invited to present their poster at Virtual Global Symposium on 24th January 2021, UNESCO World Education Day, with other students from institutions from across the globe. This provided students with an opportunity to present their research to a global audience and meet others who are undertaking research in related areas.

We used our experience of the Research Scholarships Poster Competition process to inform the approach that we developed. This involved developing clear guidance for the poster style and producing criteria against which the posters would be judged. We put a call out to all students using a range of communication channels (NUSU, Central communications) and direct communications to colleagues researching and teaching in this area.

We hosted a virtual Q and A on teams so that students could learn more about the opportunity and what it entailed. We asked student to register their intertest using a form we created in form builder to capture their key information and details about their research.

Students who couldn’t make the Q and A session were encouraged to register their interest using the form so that they could also be added to a Microsoft Teams group to access and share resources to help with poster creation, get feedback and support from each other and submit the final poster. We also offered a couple of drop in sessions within teams before the deadline so that students could ask us questions and get feedback.

The final submissions were moved to a private channel in Microsoft teams for the judging process and the judges evaluated the posters in excel spreadsheets that had been populated with the poster details and the criteria. The judges all met following this exercise to agree the winning submissions and the feedback for those students whose posters had not been selected.

Throughout the process we had regular meetings with the partner institutions to find out how their competitions were coming along and to agree the process and format of the symposium. Colleagues at the partner institutions liked our approach using Teams and we shared the template so that others could consider this approach for future years.

Why did you do it?

Universities have a critical role in shaping and responding to the needs of society and Newcastle University has a long tradition of tackling societal challenges locally, nationally and globally. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals at its heart, provides a unifying global agenda that seeks to transform our world, and this features prominently in our Vision and Strategy. Universities can be agents for powerful change towards achieving these ambitious Goals, through our research, our curricula, through empowering and energising graduates, and through our wise and innovative management and working practices.

The university has established an SDG Committee that reports directly the University Executive Board, to bring coherence and structure to our response to the SDG agenda: it seeks to harness the considerable interest in the Goals that already exists across the university and to identify and create new opportunities and enhance our ability to pursue them.  For learning and teaching, we have set ourselves the challenge of “embedding awareness and understanding of the SDGs in the student experience by developing a curricular and extracurricular offer that addresses the SDGs and explores the Agenda’s underlying principles of indivisibility, universality and of leaving no one behind.”

We developed the poster competition to offer students the opportunity to share their research and ideas that relate to SDG 10 – reducing inequalities within and among countries with others from a range of universities from around the world.

Does it work?

  • We had 7 submissions – all from PGR students but all three faculties were represented
  • 2 students were selected to present at the forum
  • 109 individuals participated in the forum. We had attendees from 21 different countries.

The countries most represented were USA (22), Kenya (20), Mexico (13) and Italy (8).

  • A recording of the event, student poster presentations and visual representation of the discussions on the day are available on the IU Global website.
  • Given the success of the event we are planning to run the competition and forum again in the 21/22 academic year. The partners have agreed that the focus will be SDG 13 – Climate Action to link to  the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) activities . We will be working with Directors of Excellence in Learning and Teaching/Faculty Education Committees/Schools across the institution to raise awareness and encourage participation. For example, Newcastle University Business School are including this in their PGT induction programme and schedule of SDG activities. We will continue to explore if and how this might be linked with the existing research and expeditions scholarships as this is reviewed.
  • The 5 institutions are reviewing how we might promote more interactions and collaboration between students across institutions as the programme develops.

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