Student spotlight: Sustainable Development Goals inspire Emma Seaberg’s academic journey

During Emma Seaberg’s first year at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, she worked on a UniverCity Alliance (UCA) project related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals that set her academic path in motion. Mentored by the School of Human Ecology’s Lori DiPrete Brown, a UCA cochair, and the juniors and seniors on her team, she provided analysis and recommendations related to UW–Madison’s Climate Action Plan. She went on to do an internship with Abigail Becker at UCA, and took additional coursework related to the SDGs in her global health major.  

A headshot of Emma Seaberg, who is wearing a black shirt and has blonde hair
Emma Seaberg

Now a junior, Seaberg has begun to apply her advanced skills. She recently served as a cofacilitator for an international global health webinar that built capacity of global partners in applying the SDGs by using a new app developed at UW–Madison.  

Seaberg is inspired to continue working with this strategic framework for environmental care, economic prosperity, and social equity. 

Photo of Lori DiPrete Brown
Lori DiPrete Brown

“It has been very exciting to witness first-hand the evolution of global health and the SDGs functionality from a prominent public health leader like Lori DiPrete Brown at such a sustainable development-focused university,” said Seaberg, who is studying global health and environmental studies.  

“As global and public health and the SDGs continue to become more studied and talked about, it has been a unique and beneficial opportunity to see how UW is advancing that work and helping the field to evolve.” 

Learn more in this Q&A about Seaberg’s experiences with the SDGs.  

How did you use SDGs in the climate action project? 

During my freshman year, I did research alongside four other students to inform a climate action plan for UW–Madison. For this project, each group member researched the current climate action plans implemented at various schools, including Colorado State University, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, the University of Freiburg, and the University of Georgia, and then evaluated and compared them to UW–Madison’s programs.  

To create a uniform way to analyze, compare, and select programs, we coded each project with a SDG. The SDG coding technique gave us more insight into which development goals need the most attention and support, and which development goals UW–Madison is effectively meeting. While I had learned about the UN’s SDGs in classes, this project was the first time I worked with them and learned more about them, and it taught me how useful the goals could be in public health development projects and research.  

How did you apply SDGs to the work of UniverCity Alliance?  

I created an executive report that aligned projects completed through UniverCity Alliance (UCA) across Wisconsin with SDGs. Prior to this project, UW–Madison students and faculty worked with 14 Wisconsin communities through UniverCity’s three-year partnership program and evaluated different topics related to public health.  

Through UniverCity, Wisconsin local governments work with program staff to develop projects that are then paired with UW–Madison faculty, staff, and courses. For example, there was not enough affordable housing in Green County, so Wisconsin School of Business students developed models and economic development plans to increase the amount of affordable housing in the county.  

In total, 212 projects were either started or completed when I created this report, and each one of them allowed for a unique collaboration where students and faculty can gain real world experience and learning within their field, and people throughout Wisconsin receive specialized attention and assistance in improving their public health systems leading the improved quality of life for all.  

I coded all 212 projects with a SDG which allowed us to recognize common public health issues within each county and throughout Wisconsin. By using the SDG coding methodology, it is easier to find patterns and common gaps within the public health systems of these countries. By recognizing patterns, we can focus more attention on specific areas of concern. 

How did you build on this knowledge during your junior year?  

This year (my junior year), I took another class with DiPrete Brown that relates the SDGs to child health and human rights. It was interesting to study the SDGs in more depth and compare them to other frameworks. In doing so, my classmates and I were able to determine which framework to use based on the context of the problem you are addressing. We determined that some frameworks, like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, have more power in legally granting rights and can be used as legal support. Others, like the SDGs, can be used more effectively for determining holistic solutions to large and important problems.  

What other experiences have you been involved in related to the SDGs?  

Halfway through the semester, Professor DiPrete Brown asked if I would help her run an international webinar for the Consortium of Universities for Global Health. We were to present the SDG360 Thinking approach, along with a new app developed by the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute and DOIT 

The app makes it easy and fast to apply the SDGs and develop visualizations. After the user inputs information, the app centers the issue to be addressed and the target SDGs at the center of the SDG wheel. Then, the user combs through each SDG and subgoal to identify all aspects of the SDG framework that align with the problem. Using this approach, public health professionals, city leaders, and others can develop more holistic solutions without creating new problems or missing opportunities for co-benefits. During the webinar, attendees practiced using the app with a current problem they are addressing. Ana Gorini da Veiga, a professor at the University of Health Sciences of Porto Alegre, said while practicing with the app that “once you see a target within the SDG goals, it makes you realize how important it is.” This is the type of holistic thinking that SDG360 encourages and creates. I developed an example using the app and presented it to the group as well. After helping to lead the webinar, I have a much better understanding of how to effectively use the UN’s SDGs while thinking about solutions related to public health and sustainability.  

What have you learned?  

I went from learning about and working with the SDGs during my first year at UW, to taking a related class, to learning how to use an innovative app and to helping to facilitate an internationally streamed webinar. I have learned so much about how the UN’s SDGs can create effective, expansive, and thorough solutions when faced with abstract and intersecting crises, especially in today’s modern and unstable environment. I am very excited to deepen my knowledge on public health, sustainability, and holistic-problem solving, as well as continue to learn more about the SDGs and more ways they can be used to drive systematic improvements in global health.