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Faces of our CommUNAty: "The Una Europa Local Task Force is not a typical student society – we want to make the most of that."

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Each Una Europa partner university hosts its own Local Student Task Force – a team of engaged students committed to making the University of the Future a reality on their campuses and in their communities. Supported and empowered by Una Europa staff, each Task Force has the autonomy to adapt alliance ideas and initiatives to their own local contexts, enabling them to interpret Una Europa in a way that resonates with their own student communities while upholding the values that unite our alliance community.

In March 2024, the Una Europa Local Student Task Force at the University of Edinburgh organised a workshop for students to explore how universities can embed sustainability skills and knowledge in their general curricula. Aligning with Una Europa’s Focus Area in Sustainability and commitment to delivering environmental sustainability, as outlined in our 2030 Strategy, the workshop demonstrates how Una Europa students can interpret and adapt the alliance’s values to make it their own, highlighting how they are shaping the University of the Future. Here Stella Schmidt-Ott and Aleksandra Ceglowska – the student minds behind the workshop – share their experience in bringing Una Europa to life for University of Edinburgh students.

This interview is part of Faces of our CommUNAty – a series shining a spotlight on the individuals behind Una Europa.

Please introduce yourselves and share how you came to be involved in Una Europa

Stella: I’m Stella, I study Sociology and Politics and I first became involved in Una Europa last year. Aleksandra and I both went to an information session about the Local Student Task Force and thought, wow, this looks really intriguing and cool, so we decided to get involved. Now I’m the Co-Chair of the Una Europa Student Board, which is really fun.

Aleksandra: Similarly to Stella, I started with Una Europa one year ago. I study Business and Law, and the reason I wanted to get involved is because I was frantically searching for a society where I would fit in, that allowed a lot of creative freedom and didn’t have rigid rules. When I heard about Una Europa, I was really excited for the chance to make my own space instead of trying to fit into a pre-defined framework. So I joined the Local Student Task Force, and now I hold the position of President of the Task Force here in Edinburgh.

The Una Europa Local Task Force at the University of Edinburgh

In March 2024, the Una Europa Local Task Force at the University of Edinburgh organised a Sustainability Workshop for students.

How did this event come about?

Aleksandra: When the Una Europa Local Student Task Force in Edinburgh met in September, we had this lovely group of people who really wanted to get involved; a new committee, and we were an official society recognised by the Students’ Association. But the problem was, what do we do now? What is our purpose?

We sat down and thought about the ways in which we are not a typical student society – we work closely with Edinburgh Global (the university’s international office) and with the alliance at large, which includes many members of staff and academia. We wanted to make the most of that. That’s how the idea of a case study workshop came about as a way to get students involved, involve other members of the Una Europa community, and go a step beyond a typical event organised by a student society.

Stella: The workshop was a great opportunity for us [the Local Student Taskforce] to distinguish ourselves and to further the values that we most respect in Una Europa.

One of the great things about Aleksandra and I working together is that we bring together the local level of the Task Force with the alliance level of the Student Board, which helped us to make the workshop happen. It also means we can pass on the lessons we learned from organising the workshop to Task Forces at other Una Europa partner universities, to give them a resource that they can use and adapt themselves. Helping each other is such a big part of Una Europa, and it’s a fun process to see how the workshop will be translated in for example Bologna or Helsinki.

What was your favourite moment from the workshop?

Aleksandra: The workshop was set up with the participants split into different teams, each supported by a member of the Local Task Force committee who acted as a facilitator. As one of the workshop organisers, I would pop in on each of the teams just to check everything was running smoothly and to ask them questions, to give them the chance to bounce their ideas off me. It was so amazing to see so many good ideas come from the teams, and to be able to empower them and help them refine their approach. It was great to see the participants so enthusiastic about the work, so that was definitely a massive highlight for me.

Stella: On the day of the event, I have to give credit to Aleksandra as the more knowledgeable one in sustainability. She really knows her stuff. I was more there to coordinate logistics and take pictures. But I did manage to hear some of the discussions the teams were having, and it was nice to hear people being so engaged with the topic.

The biggest highlight for me was that the day was so successful. Especially as it was a pilot event, there was definitely fear that it might not go well, so for a great turnout, better than I could have imagines, was amazing. I could not be happier and I’m really grateful for the people who attended, who are all connected to Una Europa now and are keen to organise the next workshop with us.

Student participants at the Una Europa Sustainability Workshop

As organisers of the workshop, what lessons did you learn?

Stella: Don’t be afraid to reach out. It was really intimidating to contact professors and ask them if they would like to be part of the workshop – sometimes we got responses, other time they didn’t reply. The most important lesson I learned was that the worst someone can do is say no, so it’s really worth putting yourself out there and just giving it a shot. The worst-case scenario is that you’re in the same spot where you started, but it’s not going to set you back in any way.

Aleksandra: I agree, this is a crucial part of organising such an event. It built our resilience. This past year with the Local Student Task Force has made me more open to talking to people and building those networking skills, which in the future will be extremely beneficial.

Another key lesson for me relates to leadership and task division. I had a personal journey of learning to trust my team give them the freedom to carry it out however they want, as long as they produce the result. I was always there to help them, but I also wanted to make sure they were involved in preparing the event and making it their own.

What advice would you give to a student at one of our partner universities who is thinking of getting involved in the alliance?

Aleksandra: Because the Una Europa Local Student Task Force is such a blank page, we always invite people to come with their ideas. If you have an idea but don’t know where to realise it, or feel you can’t do it on your own, come prepared to share your ideas and together we can create something completely new. Come and give it your best shot.

Stella: Like Aleksandra says, we [the Local Student Task Force] are still a blank page. There’s so much we can do with Una Europa, and I think that’s what’s really attractive about it – there’s no boundaries.

I would also say that there are so many ways for students to get involved in Una Europa, even if you’re not interested in joining the Task Force. You could study an Una Europa programme, the Micro-credential in Sustainability or the MOOC AI in Society, or you could get involved in the Student Congress. You don’t have to be part of the Task Force, but you can definitely represent the student body that you are part of, there’s so many things you can do. The sky’s the limit.