Photo of student standing in front of a tree, smiling.

Global Aggies: United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Internship with Global Affairs


Eleni Piliotis


BA political science, College of Letters and Science

Program Title

UC Davis Global Affairs United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Internship

What led you to participate in your global learning program during your time at UC Davis?

I remember being introduced to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I had just transferred to UC Davis from my community college and felt excited to see the events UC Davis had to offer that related to my interests in international relations and human rights. My major advisor told me about a United Nations Day event held by the Davis Chapter of the United Nations Association—and I decided to attend.

Graphic of UN SDGs
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of ambitious goals, targets and indicators adopted by all United Nations (UN) member states in 2015, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. According to recent results of a survey that Global Affairs disseminated to faculty, all 17 SDGs—which aim to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all—are being addressed by UC Davis experts. 

The event, at the International House Davis (I-House), focused on the SDGs, 17 goals presented in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which the UN developed and all UN Member States adopted in 2015. Specifically, this event emphasized SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and SDG 13: Climate Action. I met fellow students, professors and community members who were driven to improve their community and the world.

Many of the SDGs are interconnected, and to solve one will require the support of one or more of the others. I felt an urgent call to action and I began questioning how I could get more involved.

Thus, I was inspired not only to volunteer at the International Rescue Committee to help support refugees secure employment opportunities through the Women’s Economic Empowerment department in the Sacramento area, but also to search for opportunities related to the UN SDGs at UC Davis. That is how, amid the pandemic, I found the Global Affairs SDG Internship!

What was your experience like in this program? What did you learn from your experience: interacting with other people and cultures; addressing global challenges; and/or developing global skills and leadership?

Interning with Global Affairs has been an amazing experience, which allowed me to work with many like-minded individuals who were also driven about the UN SDGs.

Zero hunger. No poverty. When presented with all 17 SDGs, completely eradicating these issues can seem overwhelming and intimidating at first. As an individual or as a community, how can I work towards these goals?

The mission set before us was to complete a Voluntary University Review (VUR), a report detailing how UC Davis engages with each of the 17 UN SDGs. Compiling such a report requires strategic planning and a lot of research and collaboration. Throughout internship, I helped the team hone the VUR. I reviewed the VUR, suggested edits and helped summarize and organize the information.

This was a massive project, and I am impressed by all of the work from the contributors. The VUR is a step in the right direction of measuring UC Davis’ efforts to see what more can be done and how UC Davis can improve its efforts towards the UN SDGs. With the publication of the VUR, we hope to inspire other individuals, universities, companies and organizations to contribute to these goals and strengthen efforts.

In addition to promoting the UN SDGs and developing the VUR, another priority was organizing and planning the events, including SDGs Coffee Hour Zoom discussions, SDGs Forum, SDGs Awareness Week and more. We learned more about how other individuals and organizations contribute to the UN SDGs through these events.

My supervisors, Jolynn Shoemaker and Tom Rosen-Molina, have been absolutely incredible for not only working so hard on the framework and creation of the VUR, but also for being so encouraging and supportive

What’s one of your most memorable experiences from your program?

One of the best parts of my internship was connecting with the amazing Global Affairs team and students and faculty beyond UC Davis and across the world. My internship was remote, and I gained invaluable knowledge and insight from my supervisors and other interns. They were all so welcoming, and I enjoyed learning about their experiences and areas of interest. In addition, speaking with my team opened my eyes to different opportunities, and it was very motivating to work in a group of such like-minded and passionate individuals!

I participated in events that connected me with individuals all over the world. For example, in April 2021, UC Davis Global Affairs held an event, ”Achieving Zero Hunger: Perspectives from Four Universities Around the World,” with students and faculty from Earth University in Costa Rica, Newcastle University in the UK and Stellenbosch University in South Africa. It was incredible for everyone to come together and I felt inspired hearing about the work, research and initiatives everyone is doing to eradicate world hunger. Gaining a global perspective is so important and I look forward to expanding mine as I pursue a career in international relations!

What advice do you have for someone considering your program or a global experience, in general? What would you like to share with students who may share similar identities or experiences as you?

When you participate in a project or experience, it is important to check in with yourself regularly and reflect on completed work. What is working? What could use improvement? Did we communicate effectively? What other ways can we conduct outreach to improve engagement? These are all questions my team regularly discussed at our meeting.

Graphic for Voluntary University Review of SDGs
UC Davis launched its first Voluntary University Review to support our university’s role as a public land-grant institution in advancing this important agenda for humankind. UC Davis Global Affairs, Sustainability, and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are spearheading this effort.

For example, when conducting outreach for the VUR, we decided to send out a survey to UC Davis faculty, students and club/organizations to ask if and how they have contributed to the UN SDGs. We evaluated the response rate after sharing this survey through various methods, including social media and newsletters. By coming together as a team, we could reflect and discuss other ways to receive more responses to improve our outreach strategy. Working as a team and hearing everyone’s ideas and input was instrumental when overcoming new challenges.

In any internship, volunteer, study abroad or work opportunity, I strongly encourage you to get to know your team and make strong connections. Whether your work is remote or in-person, it is essential to keep your team up to date on the status of your current tasks and projects. My internship with Global Affairs was completely virtual, and I learned quickly how vital it is to keep your supervisors and team in the loop and ask questions. Having more clarification on a project or task ends up saving you a lot more time and improves performance. In addition, always be open to and ask for feedback. Receiving feedback from my peers and supervisors through this internship and beyond has improved my work. It helped me to write down ideas and key phrases on paper to think through and explore various topics that may help with a project or goal. My supervisors were also open to hearing new ideas or projects.

Look for ways to get involved that align with your passions and interests. Whether you are passionate about women’s rights, journalism, coding, the environment and more, there are so many opportunities at UC Davis to further explore your interests. Take a look at UC Davis clubs and communities, and attend UC Davis club and career fairs to check out different opportunities you have not considered. I discovered the UN SDGs internship through the Global Affairs website, and UC Davis has many different departments that offer internship and research opportunities!

How do you think your program experiences will benefit you in the future—thinking academically, future career goals, or personally?

My experience helped provide me with transferable skills such as organization, project management, teamwork, and so much more. I currently use all of these skills at my current position as a public affairs specialist at a public agency where I work full-time.

In addition, this internship helped me learn more about new technology that is being created and used to help with the UN SDGs. This is fascinating and vital, especially in regards to climate action. I would love to look into this more as I pursue graduate school and a future career in foreign policy.

Of course, I cannot thank my supervisors, Jolynn and Tom, enough for being such great mentors. They shared their experience with graduate school and working with foreign affairs. It has been so helpful, especially as I start a master's program in international affairs this fall.

The Global Aggies Blog is where students have the chance to share their experiences with fellow Aggies considering a global learning program during their time at UC Davis. Submit your Global Aggies Blog profile to be considered for a web and/or social media feature (InstagramFacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and YouTube).

About the Global Learning Hub at UC Davis

Through the Global Learning Hub, each and every UC Davis student can find global learning opportunities available on campus, in the region, virtually, and internationally. The Hub offers global learning programs, workshops, and resources that enhance all UC Davis students’ academic and career pursuits through four broad areas of opportunities: Community Engagement; Global Skills and Leadership; Internships and Research; and Study Abroad. UC Davis is committed to preparing the next generation of global problem solvers and change makers. As such, we aim to prepare our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to solve global challenges collaboratively, equitably, and sustainably.

As a part of Global Affairs, the Global Learning Hub aims to inspire global curiosity, understanding, and engagement.

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