Catalyst for Change: Students Witness Innovation at Work at COP28

Heather Johnson '25 (second from left) and Georgia Mugisha ’26  (fourth from left) and their COP28 cohort. The group witnessed top minds and global leaders grapple with some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Heather Johnson '25 (second from left) and Georgia Mugisha ’26 (fourth from left) and their COP28 cohort. The group witnessed top minds and global leaders grapple with some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Students travel to Dubai through global-ed partnership

Determination surged through the first days of the United Nations’ 28th annual Conference of the Parties (COP). And two Dickinson students were there in Dubai to see the wheels of progress in motion.

The COP draws together some of the world’s leading decisionmakers, scientists, activists, government officials and thought leaders to discuss pressing challenges posed by climate change and consider next steps. With funding through a grant awarded by the Stevens Institute and in partnership with the American University of Sharjah (AUS), Dickinson sent Heather Johnson ’25 (environmental studies, political science) and Georgia Mugisha ’26 (international studies, economics) to Dubai to attend the opening days of COP28.

“This experience provided real-world connections and applications of our work to demonstrate the interdependence of sustainability and global education and provided a platform for our students to experience the challenges and solutions surrounding the global climate crisis,” says Lindsey Lyons, Dickinson's director of sustainability learning. “Students could apply their Dickinson education to addressing some of the world’s most pressing needs while exploring the culture of Dubai, campus life at AUS and global partnerships focused on sustainable solutions.”

Johnson and Mugisha were nominated for the honor by faculty members and selected through an interview process. Once in Dubai, they resided at the local university as part of a U.S. student cohort.

The cohort took part in two full days of COP sessions, exploring sites and attending talks. They observed as member nations promised to provide aid to poor countries struggling with the effects of a warming planet and pledged to dramatically cut methane production in the months and years to come. “It meant a lot to me to get to see firsthand all the super creative and innovative efforts of so many different nations and individuals,” says Mugisha.

The students also explored their host country’s culture. They learned about traditional Emirati life during a tour of Dubai’s oldest neighborhood and sampled regional street food at a bustling marketplace. During their final evening they visited the famed Dubai Mall and dined under the bright lights of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper. 

“I learned that nothing beats real life experiences and getting to see the real implications of what I've been studying,” says Mugisha, who's taking two courses this semester with major sustainability components—one of which includes close study of UN Sustainable Development Goals. “My understanding of climate change and exposure to what’s being done about it around the world has also grown so much.”

The opportunity was also a perfect fit for Johnson, who's focusing on the Middle East, the energy transition, GIS and American foreign policy in her classes this fall. She even was able to meet American University of Sharjah students who’d partnered with her GIS class on a project.

"I learned so much about UAE culture and history, but mainly, I learned that there are so many people who are fighting the same fight I am," says Johnson, who marked her first overseas trip at the COP. "It was comforting to see how many people truly care about the environment and justice and are figuring out a way that we can reach environmental goals."


Published December 7, 2023