IES Abroad a Finalist for Forum's 2022 Award for Advancing the SDGs through Education Abroad

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IES Abroad

We’re excited to announce that we have been selected as a 2022 finalist of The Forum on Education Abroad’s Award for Advancing the SDGs through Education Abroad! 

We are honored to be in the great company of the three other Finalists, who are also all part of our Academic Consortium: Dickinson College, Temple University, and University of Virginia. 

Nominees were ranked based on their implementation of the guidelines for Advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through Education Abroad over the past academic year, and four finalists were chosen.

The winner of the 2022 Award will be announced during The Forum’s 19th Annual Conference, which will take place on March 14-15, 2023, virtually, and March 22-24 in Seattle, Washington. 

Our Global Good Commitment and the Importance of Sustainable Development Goals

a student sitting on a mountaintop by the ocean

Here at IES Abroad, our commitment to the representation and integration of diverse perspectives, cultures, and ideas is essential to fulfilling our mission. As a study abroad provider, we have a responsibility and a unique opportunity to be a catalyst for change, and our programs are integral in training the leaders of tomorrow. 

We are also dedicated to doing all that we can to be an active participant in fostering a more sustainable and equitable world through our Global Good Commitment. We believe study abroad is a path for students to understand sustainability and equity from a global perspective and develop the problemsolving skills they need, and employers seek.  

We've taken inspiration from the UN's Sustainable Development Goals to create a framework to guide the way we think about incorporating and implementing the “global good” into and throughout our organization, including the courses we offer our students. This framework includes our IES Abroad Global Pillars: Sustainable Living & Sustainable Production, Equitable Living, and Human Well-Being. 

Our Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, Dr. Michael Adewumi said: “At IES Abroad, our work is to shape the global leaders of the future. To accomplish this goal, we need to consider the concerns that loom largest in the minds of today’s students about the world they will inherit. Developing relevant, impactful academic initiatives around our Global Pillars is our highest priority so that we may give our students the platform, opportunity, and tools to engage in finding real-world solutions for a more sustainable, equitable, and kinder way of life for all.”

Michael Adewumi headshot
“At IES Abroad, our work is to shape the global leaders of the future.”
Dr. Michael Adewumi • Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at IES Abroad

Integrating UN Sustainable Development Goals into our Curriculum

student on an Environmental Studies & Sustainability course looking at a leaf with a magnifying glass

According to the New York Times, there’s an increase in demand at colleges and universities (and particularly business schools) for ESG-related offerings. The Hill also reports that demand for sustainability jobs are soaring and there are not enough qualified professionals to fill them. Sustainability plays, and will continue to play, an important role in a student’s education regardless of their academic focus and career aspirations.

In 2019, IES Abroad assembled an external Curriculum Audit and Transformation (CAT) Task Force comprised of academic leaders from our Consortium partner universities. The Task Force was charged with examining IES Abroad’s curriculum and making recommendations on how to increase its transformative impact. One of the most prominent recommendations was to integrate the UN-SDGs into IES Abroad courses and co-curricular programming.     After internally examining the 17 SDGs, IES Abroad combined the most relevant issues that could best be addressed by study abroad into our IES Abroad Global Pillars. 

By integrating Global Pillars into our curriculum more broadly, IES Abroad has the potential to educate students to understand that many of the global challenges do not recognize national boundaries, and their resolution must be tackled on a worldwide scale involving collaboration among nations, both rich and poor. Furthermore, the solutions to these global challenges will require a broad knowledge and will not be confined to one academic discipline. We strive to infuse these pillars into our courses, new program development, experiential opportunities, and co-curricular programming. 

Designing the Sustainable City: A Course for Sustainable Literacy

Out of this initiative grew our Designing the Sustainable City course, which was piloted in Barcelona, London, and Milan in Spring 2022. Due to its success, we have expanded this course from three centers to six (Barcelona, Milan, London, Berlin, Salamanca, and Nice). Likewise, the enrollment numbers are growing, with more than double the number of students enrolled from Spring 2022 (17) to Fall 2022 (35). 

We are expanding this initiative so that the course will be offered across 12 Centers in Spring 2023, and in future semesters we’ll be using this course as a framework for Equitable Living and Human Well-Being courses. 

Designing the Sustainable City provides students: 

  • The opportunity to engage in a multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural learning community that addresses a global issue.  
  • Exposure to the most pressing environmental issues in their cities, and engagement in a variety of projects that allow them to hone their skills in team building, negotiation, data collection and analysis, and multi-media presentations in an international setting.  
    • Students work in small teams to design a project that can offer solutions to the issues they have identified at the local level, considering the environmental, historical and social characteristics of their host city. Students learn the most effective ways to solve problems in teams representing diverse perspectives and backgrounds, thus preparing them to succeed in future projects and careers.  
  • Substantive field visits and connections with local NGOs allow students to gather valuable data and information as they develop their projects; innovative technology enables them to share their experience and findings across the three locations; and problem-based learning will culminate in each team delivering a multi-media presentation to the group.  Field Trip Examples: 
    • Water Observatory of Terrassa (OAT) in Barcelona: Students spoke to a representative from the Taula de l’Aigua (Water Table), a citizen platform overseeing the process of re-municipalizing the water services in the city.  
    • Unió de Pagesos de Catalunya (Catalan Farmers’ Union) in Mataró 
    • Visiting the Olympic Park in London for a sustainability tour with an urban regeneration specialist  
    • Multi-day trip to learn about climate and the vegetation in the Black Forest and Swiss Alps 
  • Projects directly impact the well-being of their local host communities. For example:  
    • In Barcelona, students developed a flexible, electric shared public taxi service integrated with the metro system to help passengers, especially more vulnerable groups such as women, children, and the elderly, to travel the last mile in areas not effectively covered by public transport.  
    • In Milan, students developed a public-private partnership to provide services and infrastructure for participating businesses to incentivize their employees to cycle to work, aiming to change the culture of cycling in Milan which currently is perceived as a leisure only activity.  
    • In London, students developed a shared locker scheme for use by all delivery companies, using the infrastructure of the London Tube, with the aim to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions by minimizing the use of delivery vans in London. 

Upon successful completion of this course, students earn a micro-credential in Sustainability and Development that demonstrates their sustainability literacy and ability to find innovative solutions to complex problems. 

What People are Saying:

After the course, students are given the opportunity to provide feedback and reflection in a debrief document.  

Two of the Spring 2022 Barcelona students said this course had galvanized them to finalize plans to conduct research in areas related to social equality and sustainability. This is exactly the type of curiosity and commitment for sustainability and equitable living we’re trying to foster through study abroad for the future through future global leaders.  

“Overall, the students’ feedback on this course was that they felt empowered: this was the first course that most of them had taken in which, rather than being taught, they took an active part in the learning process, and were asked to come up with workable, real-life solutions to problems they themselves had identified. In May 2022, after the end of the course, I came across an article about a public transport proposal in Germany which was extremely like the idea proposed by the Barcelona students: An electric driverless bus, which links a housing estate with the closest metro station; and a bus without a fixed route that adapts to passengers' needs. Apart from the driverless part, a combination of these two is exactly the idea they came up with. Student Abhiyuhd R. responded: 'Wow, that’s really crazy. I’m proud of us.”
Alex Walker • Assistant Director & Dean of Faculty at IES Abroad Barcelona

Additional Programs, Courses, and Internships Focused on Sustainability & Social Justice

seagulls flying around the beach in Nice at sunset

In addition to Designing the Sustainable City, we have several other programs, courses and internships across our locations in the fields of Environmental Studies and Sustainability, Social Justice and Political Science & International Relations. Students are immersed in their host locations, study local laws, regulations and programs associated to their areas of study, which provides a  global perspective that they can take back to their own communities.

Students also engage in field trips to a range of locations to learn about their local communities and how they operate, such as the Water Observatory of Terrassa (OAT) in Barcelona and the Black Forest in Germany. Here is a sampling of our related programs, courses, and internships:

Environmental Studies & Sustainability Programs

Environmental Studies & Sustainability in Freiburg

Known for taking the lead in the development of eco-friendly technologies and architecture, Freiburg also attracts researchers and environmental organizations from around the world. Students study Freiburg’s many unique contributions to this important movement.

Galápagos Islands January Term - Marine Ecosystems

Students immerse themselves in the environment as they explore eco-friendly technologies and architecture, visit environmental organizations, and study Marine Ecology and flora and fauna.

Galápagos Islands Direct Enrollment – GAIAS

Fast-paced and as rewarding as it is challenging, this program is great for students interested in conducting field research or going on to graduate school. Students get hands-on experience studying topics such as Biology, Ecology, Environmental Studies, Marine Ecology, and Sociology.

Granada Summer - Sustainable Development & Equitable Living Across Borders in Spain & Morocco

Driven by the IES Abroad Global Good Commitment, this 6-week program offers courses examining policies, international relations, and natural and cultural paradigms towards Sustainable Development and Equitable Living at the crossroads of Europe and Africa

Social Justice Programs

Social Sciences and Humanities in Amsterdam

Against the backdrop of a progressive city known for its cutting-edge contributions to the arts, business, politics, and social policy, this program offers students the chance to take an independent, fresh look at the world. 

Health, Culture & Development in Cape Town

Students on this program gain insight into the complexity and breadth of the contemporary issues facing one of the world’s fastest growing economic zones. 

London - Health Practice & Policy

Students on this program will discover the different perspectives, challenges, and needs of diverse populations in London and Kingston with a once-in-a-lifetime community-based learning opportunity.

International Relations Programs

Paris - Business & International Affairs

Set in a city that's home to international agencies such as the European Institute for Security Studies, the OECD, and UNESCO, this program allows students to study in one of the most important business, financial, and political centers in the world.

Multi-Location - Emerging Economies: Buenos Aires & Santiago

Designed for students interested in Business, Economics, Sociology, and Political Science, this multi-location interdisciplinary program offers a unique comparative perspective of two of the most notable emerging economies in South America: Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile.

Environmental Sustainability Remote Internships Placements

Education 4 Nature Galapagos

This nonprofit is developing a method to measure and evaluate over time the secondary succession of native forests that have been replanted by multiple individuals over various years on two reserves.

Amazonia Onlus

This Onlus supports the Amazon natives in the fight against the deforestation and for the conservation of the rainforest and its biodiversity. Since 2004, the non-profit organization works to ensure education, health and sustainable development to local communities of the Amazon Forest.

Sustainable Operations at IES Abroad 

Student picking up trash on beach in Positano

Our dedication to the UN’s SDGs extends beyond our curriculum. As an organization, we are committed to reducing our consumption and production, both in our Chicago Headquarters and at our 34 Centers abroad. In direct connection with our carbon footprint, we have invested in purchasing carbon offsets for all Staff travel over the past fiscal year. Moving forward, this will be a permanent part of our budget. We know though, that our work in reducing our carbon footprint must be multi-faceted and reach beyond the purchase of carbon offsets. This multi-faceted approach includes the following practices: 

Paper and Office Materials

At our Chicago Headquarters, Office Services will replace all paper and plastic with sustainably sourced materials, over time. We have reduced our use of paper to almost nothing, with a switch to distributing PDFs instead of hard copies for editing. This year, we invested in updating our catalogs to a smaller size and printed them on 100% post-consumer waste paper using soy-based ink. To further reduce waste, we printed 40% less catalogs than we have in the past. We are practicing a hybrid print/digital model which allows paperless school partners and students to access catalogs digitally. Beyond the production of our catalogs, we are also only purchasing and distributing sustainably sourced “swag” at Study Abroad Fairs and other events. When our employees travel for these events, we encourage travel by car instead of air where possible.

Our Centers

In addition to the operational practices at our Headquarters, we are also dedicated to sharing knowledge and resources across our Centers. At our Centers around the world, IES Abroad staff members are making huge strides in becoming more sustainable.


We are mindful of how we can make the events we host more sustainable. We purchased carbon offsets for our IES Abroad dinner during Forum, and we are making our Annual Conference as paper-free as possible, moving to an app vs. a printed program, making our catalogs accessible digitally, providing sustainably sourced swag, hosting our Film Festival at a LEED Certified venue powered by 100% renewable energy and uses an on-site composting and recycling system to reduce event-related waste, and more. Beginning in 2023, we are planning to host our Annual Conference at a LEED Certified conference venue, the Raddison Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago designed by Jeanne Gang.

Learn more about our Global Good Commitment

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