The SDG Leadership Academy: Students And the City of Los Angeles Work Towards A Sustainable Future

Over the course of the summer, USC-IIGH sponsored the SDG Leadership Academy. 63 students from four different universities took part in this ten-week internship program in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of the City of Los Angeles. The SDG Leadership Academy explored how the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be applied at the city level on an array of topical areas from LGBT+ data, communication and storytelling to addressing biodiversity loss, all within the context of the city of Los Angeles. Overall nine different group projects took place with great success.

Students from a range of disciplines joined the cohort from USC, Occidental College, Arizona State University, Pomona College. A total of 95 highly qualified and impressive USC students applied for the internship opportunity from 11 different USC schools including Keck School of Medicine, Price School of Public Policy, Marshall School of Business, the Spatial Sciences Institute and USC Dornsife School of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism, USC School of Cinematic Arts, Rossier School of Education, Viterbi School of Engineering, USC School of Architecture, and USC School of Pharmacy. Ultimately, 1 were selected to participate.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SDG Leadership Academy had to shift to an all virtual format which included weekly meetings with representatives from the Mayor’s Office. “While it was completely online, the internship felt very real,” Kush Shanker, a health promotion and disease undergraduate student in Keck School of Medicine of USC, said about the experience. “When the final report and the presentation came to fruition, it made me realize that our team did a lot of hard work to come up with meaningful findings and recommendations. It made all the previous years of scholarship and learning worth it.” As an added benefit not only for the students but for the city clients and project outcomes, students engaged in weekly conversations around the impacts of structural racism in the context of Los Angeles.

Alison Schulte, a global health major in Keck School of Medicine of USC, was able to work with 5 other students and faculty lead Professor Sofia Gruskin, Director of the USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health, on a project looking at disaggregating LGBTQ+ data across the city of LA. “I loved having the chance to really get my hands dirty in meaningful work.”

The SDG Leadership Academy is an ongoing program, which will continue to foster city and university-level collaboration.