U7+ Student Challenge on Addressing Sustainable Development Goals hosted by uOttawa

Faculty of Engineering
Student life
Students attending the ceremony and looking at the screen displaying the U7+ logo.
The U7+ Alliance of Universities created the U7+ Student Challenge in 2022 to allow students to collaborate, research, and propose solutions to a local challenge linked to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This year, the finalists presented their projects at an event hosted by uOttawa’s Faculty of Engineering.

Coming together for social change 

The final phase of the challenge, which took place on campus from May 24 to 26, boasted representatives from Canada, France, Japan, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, India, and the USA. The challenge provided students with opportunities to develop critical and systemic thinking skills by leveraging technology as a tool to solve real sustainability issues.  

With mentoring from a faculty professor, the finalists followed the U7+Principles to present solutions to specific issues in their communities by combining elements of economic, environmental, and social development. Last year, students addressed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by leveraging technology and a multi-disciplinary approach, and they demonstrated that they could have a significant impact on multiple stakeholders. This year’s event followed the same guidelines but with sustainable mobility as its central theme. 

Students showcased their innovative ideas 

The team from Ashesi University, in Ghana, focused its attention to the scarcity of resources in the country's public health sector such as lack of hospital beds for patients and the inaccessibility of telehealth services. Their project uses an electronic health record (EHR) system with priority-based features. The system centralizes bed management and improves communication among health care facilities through real-time updates. This information will help improve health care access, delivery, and infrastructure. 

To promote better access to higher education for refugee students in the Asia-Pacific region, the Japanese delegation from Hitotsubashi University proposed an advocacy platform with actors from the public and private sector. By using blockchain technologies, they want to build a network between universities, professors, NGOs, and organizations that supports the development of skills, resulting in higher levels of post-secondary education and a more inclusive and peaceful society. 

Ivorian students from the Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny suggested an innovative alternative to combat the carbon emissions that cause global climate change. Their project captures carbon dioxide directly from a vehicle’s exhaust and creates sodium carbonate that is stored by the vehicle owner and sold to businesses. Their goal is to promote sustainable development and enhance the well-being of current and future populations.  

The team from the University of Toronto reflected on inclusive and friendly urban planning. By collecting data, and reviewing and analyzing related literature, the students used a multidisciplinary approach to design new street curbs that aim to reduce barriers and increase accessibility to infrastructure. 

Representatives from École Polytechnique in France had Valencia as their case study and proposed a solution to the lack of electricity-based mobility solutions and the population’s unwillingness to use public transportation. Combining technology and behavioral sciences, they designed an application that motivates the community to explore sustainable modes of transportation and ensure economic and environmental targets are met. 

Under the mentorship of Faculty of Engineering professor David Bruce, the University of Ottawa delegation presented a cost-effective project to raise awareness of city pollution. They proposed equipping electric bikes with mobile sensors to detect environmental data and identify pollution hotspots in order to inform government policies and propose alternative routes through more sustainable areas. The project seeks to foster consciousness about the detrimental effects of pollution and to improve the quality of life of people living in major cities. 

The team from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay discussed ways to optimize the integration of traditional auto-rickshaws with the new Mumbai metro rail network. To minimize negative employment effects on auto-rickshaw drivers, they suggested the creation of designated auto-rickshaw routes and stops, as well as investment in training for drivers. Commuters would benefit from incentives for choosing this as a sustainable and cost-effective alternative. 

The U.S. team from Northwestern University chose to tackle critical issues in the electric vehicle (EV) battery industry. First, they highlighted the need to address human rights abuses and the infringement of ecofriendly practices across the product manufacturing process. Then, by leveraging cutting-edge digitization and traceability technologies, they sought ways to create a sustainable supply chain for EV batteries that incorporates accountability and shared responsibility, resulting in greener and more cost-effective products. 

Group of students who participated on the challenge

Experience that enhances proactive learning  

These projects are excellent initiatives that highlight how mutual collaboration within academia can help drive solutions to some of the greatest challenges humanity faces. These elements are the starting point for the evolution of higher education into a model that enriches the student experience beyond the limits of traditional programs.  

After the jury had evaluated the project presentations, the uOttawa team was named the winner of the sustainable mobility category, with the École Polytechnique taking second place. The delegation from Ashesi University won the open category with Northwestern University taking second in this bracket. 

In addition to the project presentations, the event featured a workshop on coming together for a shared vision and a guest lecture on sustainability. The delegations also had the opportunity to tour and experience the Faculty of Engineering’s state-of-the-art design facilities

The U7+ Alliance is an academic association formed by world-class universities across continents that engage in discussions and mutual collaboration to explore solutions to critical issues affecting our world. The Alliance recognizes the significant role these universities play in developing future leaders who will propel social and environmental initiatives. 

The University of Ottawa is honoured to be a member of this group, which believes in collaboration and diversity as key elements in creating a better world. The Faculty of Engineering encourages engagement with academic partners in multi-disciplinary and cultural ways, supporting the development of core competencies that inspire our communities. We were thrilled to host this year’s edition of the event and welcome the delegations.