Undergraduate Student Pushes for Increased Awareness on Sustainability Issues

Afra'a presenting at UAlbany Showcase. She stands in front of a screen displaying her presentation.
Afra'a Kolaib presenting her work at UAlbany Showcase.

ALBANY, N.Y. (Aug. 10, 2023) -- Public health major Afra’a Kolaib recently worked with the School of Public Health and the Office of Sustainability to conduct a comprehensive research project to better understand the campus community’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to sustainability.

“Growing up in New York City shaped my passion for public health and sustainable development. The city's challenges, diversity, and collaborative networks exposed me to urban health issues and inequalities,” says Kolaib. “It instilled in me a sense of responsibility and fueled my drive to create healthier, more equitable communities; It made me realize the importance of addressing social determinants of health and sustainable development.”

Kolaib was taking an elective course in the Department of Communication in the College of Arts and Sciences in Spring 2023. Students had to complete a survey-based informative presentation, and Kolaib chose to survey students on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of 17 goals adopted by 193 countries in 2015 to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030.

“I was shocked that my survey revealed a lack of knowledge among students about sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals,” Kolaib explains. “After speaking with my global health professor, John Justino, and the Director of UAlbany’s Office of Sustainability, Mary Ellen Mallia, they recommended that I share my findings and passion with the larger campus community, and I partnered with them to do so.”

Mallia shared the results of the "2023 Student Sustainability Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behavior Survey" with Kolaib, which included responses from a pool of 5,000 students, 1,000 staff, and 500 faculty who were randomly selected for participation. Using this and the survey responses she collected for class, Kolaib then worked on a proposal to the University to summarize the findings and to showcase why it is important for the UAlbany to incorporate sustainability into more coursework—whether through core courses for majors or in first year courses for freshmen students.

“This project entailed a lot of factors that were new to Afra’a, including research and data analysis, and it was incredible to see her jump right in with partners around campus to help determine how we can equip students with more knowledge,” says John Justino, the director of the Center for Global Health and interim director of the Undergraduate Public Health program.

Kolaib’s project will be used in the coming semesters to determine how to best support initiatives and systems related to sustainability.

“Sustainability is relevant and impacts all students. Regardless of field—be it engineering, business, economics, or psychology—there are sustainability challenges,” Kolaib says. “To address them, we must incorporate sustainability into all curricula. This way, every student can grasp its significance in their respective studies. Introducing sustainability education is highly likely to foster behavioral and social change, fuel innovation, entrepreneurship, and promote equity.”

Kolaib presented her work at UAlbany’s Inaugural Showcase in May 2023, earning the people’s choice for “Best Undergraduate Student Poster, Presentation, and Performance for STEM” award.

Now going into her senior year, Kolaib will continue to work on sustainability initiatives at UAlbany, and following graduation, she plans to contribute to international sustainable development and the humanitarian aid effort, advocate for equity and peacemaking, and participate in the global health field.