After presenting his assessments on Sustainable Development in Jamaica at a United Nations (UN) workshop two years ago, Vinod Sasidharan was approached by a delegate from the Dominican Republic’s Office of the President.
“We would like you to assist us in performing a Sustainability Evaluation for the Dominican Republic in the Punta Cana region,” the delegate told Sasidharan, an associate professor and advisor for SDSU’s L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
“We’d like to do something in the Punta Cana-Veron region because we have applied to the United Nations for a Global Cities Compact Certification.”
Sasidharan believed SDSU was the perfect fit for this project.
“I thought it would be beneficial for SDSU students to get involved with this because we teach sustainability in different formats on campus, but seldom do we have the opportunities for students to work hands-on … in projects of international significance in the area of sustainable development.”
Based on his experience with sustainability projects in this region of the Dominican Republic, Sasidharan developed “The Dominican Republic Experience: Sustainability, Human Needs, and Basic Rights,” an inaugural four-week service-learning course that encapsulates the connection between environmental issues, societal priorities and economic growth.
About the course
From mid-May to mid-June, Sasidharan and 17 student consultants from various disciplines examined the Punta Cana-Veron region to understand and assess the area’s ability to achieve eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG), including:
- Eradicate hunger and poverty.
- Achieve universal primary education.
- Promote gender equality and empower women.
- Reduce child mortality.
- Improve maternal health.
- Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases.
- Ensure environmental sustainability.
- Develop a global partnership for development.
“The course was essentially developed to expose students, and community members as well, to the idea that sustainability is a variety of different aspects, primarily centered around the fact that human needs and basic rights have to be met,” Sasidharan said.
Through a useful, practical and fun international experience, the student consultants provided a framework for an unprecedented assessment of sustainability in the Caribbean.
“They effectively demonstrated SDSU’s commitment to global sustainability efforts,” Sasidharan said.
Sasidharan and the student consultants visited various facilities and engaged with a variety of people, including doctors, school teachers, environmental specialists, social workers, entrepreneurs, hospitality and tourism law professionals, law enforcement officials and citizens.
“The people were unbelievable,” said Alejandra Garces, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in French. “For me, I really enjoy helping others. And that’s really what the course is all about.”
This is a critical UN MDG report that we never would have had a chance to get if it wasn’t for SDSU.
Corina Marquez, a business management senior, was captivated by the real-life, hands-on course material.
“I found the course to be very interesting just because of the actual material that we were learning and how we were engaging with the community and the projects going on in Punta Cana,” she said.
At the course’s conclusion, Sasidharan and the student consultants presented some of their reports to various Punta Cana representatives and received a tremendous response.
“This is a critical UN MDG report that we never would have had a chance to get if it wasn’t for SDSU,” one of the local representatives told Sasidharan and the student consultants.
Once Sasidharan assembles all of the reports into one formal document later this summer, he plans to hold a live web conference from SDSU with the student consultants and Punta Cana representatives to discuss the final report, its implications and how the situation in the Punta Cana-Veron region can be improved.
The report will serve as a benchmarking tool for enhancing the region’s ability to procure future UN grants and funds for sustainable development in the area.