Independent Public Mission Schools

Seton Hall Selects Winners of UN Sustainable Development Goals Challenge

In September of 2015, the United Nations called on governments and businesses, not-for-profit organizations and ordinary citizens to help heal the planet. Countries adopted a set of 17 Global Goals aimed at ending poverty, protecting the earth and ensuring prosperity for everyone, and pledged to get there by 2030. To help do its part, The School of Diplomacy and International Relations established the UN Sustainable Development Goals Challenge in 2015, inviting students to imagine ways – big and small – of transforming our fragile world.

Now in its second year, the UN SDG Challenge attracted 252 applicants from around the globe. Over the last few months, proposals arrived from young problem solvers in Kenya, Bangladesh, South Korea, Texas, Michigan and Brazil. Students and young professionals representing 23 nations and 27 states stepped up with innovative proposals addressing the problems that concerned them most, including climate change, education, gender equality, and health. The UN SDG Challenge gave participants a platform for their ideas and a chance for seed funding, along with scholarships to attend Seton Hall University.

Watch a video of the UN SDG Challenge presentations »

Fr. Brian Muzás, assistant professor and director of the School of Diplomacy’s Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, which organized the SDG Challenge, reflected on the impressiveness and quality of the entries that were received: “I was struck by how many of the undergraduate presentations highlighted what high school students were already doing in their communities to foster the SDGs, and many of the graduate proposals would make worthy dissertation projects. I look forward to watching these young students make their marks on the world.”

From a stack of promising possibilities, 15 visionaries were selected to present their strategies – virtually, or in person — at a day-long event at Seton Hall that took place on April 21. A panel of international affairs experts evaluated the proposals and selected the winners. They heard about the challenges many people face each day, such as food shortages brought about by climate change in Malawi, and severe overcrowding in schools in Cameroon, triggered, in part, by the country’s move to offer free public education.

Patricia Zanini Graca, who dreams of one day working at the UN, traveled from Brazil to South Orange for an opportunity to share her plan for strengthening global cooperation as a way of achieving sustainable development. Another finalist, Sofia Calvo Castillo, zeroed in on the problem of air pollution that affects environmentally-conscious Costa Rica. Castillo, who lives in Summit, New Jersey, proposed developing hydrogen fuels cells to power vehicles and help reduce pollution. After finishing her presentation, a panelist asked how hydro-powered vehicles would get into the market. “Awareness building is important,” Castillo declared. She acknowledged that weaning drivers off fossil fuels is difficult: “People need to know that there is an option.”

Winning Ideas

Throughout the day, judges viewed PowerPoints and mulled over proposals. They listened intently to lively presentations delivered, through the magic of Skype, from classrooms and coffee shops a world away. They asked probing follow-up questions about implementation, evaluations and costs involved. And, by the end of the day, they had 4 winners selected.

Ann LeeAnn Lee, of Sammamish, Washington, captured 1st place for her earth-friendly initiative. Lee, a high school junior, remembered learning as a child about how warming temperatures were shrinking the habitat for polar bears. Moved by the plight of these “cute and cuddly animals,” she dedicated herself to making a difference. “Climate change, “she told the audience, “is a human rights violation. We have a moral obligation to do something.” Lee’s wining proposal, entitled Schools Under 2c, aims to get students to reduce their own carbon footprint as a way of keeping the increase in the global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.

Presenting her proposal via Skype from Lexington, Kentucky, where she was also attending a robotics competition, Lee demonstrated how her project incentivized the use public transportation, bikes and car pools by students at her school. A mobile app was developed to help teens track their carbon cutting progress. Ten schools in Washington, and two from Texas, have also gotten on board. “Our goal,” Lee said, “is to form a passionate network across the world that shows that kids can have an impact on climate change.”

After presenting her proposal, one of the judges asked Lee how Schools Under 2c going would continue after she graduated. Lee described her high school as environmentally engaged and said, confidently, that a plan was in place for passing the project along to underclassmen each year. Looking toward her next chapter, Lee added: “I would also like to continue a similar program in my own college and encourage other universities across the world to take action as well.”

Grace Anderson, a high school student from Millstone, New Jersey, who participated in last year’s SDG Challenge, returned with a plan for solar-powered irrigation systems. She took 2nd place in the undergraduate group. Anderson, who interned with an NGO focusing on water projects in the developing world, championed a method of bringing low-cost irrigation to 160 farmers in villages in Malawi, where climate extremes of flooding and draught are intensifying. Rising temperatures coupled with rapid population growth, “has all the makings of an ecological, country-wide catastrophe,” Anderson told the judges. Her idea would involve local farmers in project design and development. It addresses several UN Global Goals aimed at creating jobs, reducing food insecurity and cutting poverty.

This year’s SDG Challenge was also open to current college students and young professionals. Alexander James Miller, a senior at the University of Michigan, took first place for a proposal to bring HIV/AIDs education and treatment to the LGBT community in sub-Saharan Africa, where homosexuality is often illegal, and, in some countries, is punishable by death. High-risk groups in the ostracized LGBT community, Miller explained, are forced to conceal their identities, and often do not know their HIV status or how to protect themselves and their partners from infection. Miller, who spent five years living in southern Africa, modeled his idea on a health clinic in Botswana where he volunteered. He proposed setting up health centers that could provide better access to medical services for people who are HIV-positive, promote education about HIV, and encourage tolerance of the LBGT community. Judges acknowledged the difficulty of the inclusion aspect of Miller’s project in areas where there are hostile policies directed at homosexuals. Miller said he thought it was best to start by targeting young people who are often more open to the LGBT community and to seeing LBGT rights as human rights.

The 2nd place winner in the college-age group presented via Skype from the University of Yaounde, in Soa, Cameroon. Ngong Justin Chee, who woke up in the middle of the night to learn that he’d won the competition, discussed the challenges to quality education in Cameroon. Public schools, he explained, have an extremely high student/teacher ratio of 100:1. The government’s decision in 2000 to move toward free public education in the country, he said, has not been met with additional basic resources, such as textbooks, and transportation for students who live a long distance from school. Educators and students must grapple with poor infrastructure and limited supplies. Chee’s idea for addressing the problem is to establish a National Volunteer Council to support teachers in the classroom and develop a virtual library which he hopes would help increase literacy rates from 81% to 96% over the next ten years. “Cameroon,” Chee declared, “needs something to believe in. Volunteerism is an opportunity to address a problem in our schools.”

At the conclusion of the program, Andrea Bartoli, dean of the School of Diplomacy congratulated the students for taking on such serious questions and looking for answers. “Tonite,” he said, “we are starting something. We are moving toward sustainable goals that must be addressed, that must be accomplished.”

The winners and finalists in the School of Diplomacy’s 2017 UN Sustain Development Goals Challenge –


•Anne Lee, Sammamish, WA – 1st place/Undergraduate Competition
•Grace Anderson, Millstone, NJ – 2nd place/Undergraduate Competition
•Alexander James Miller (Ann Arbor, MI) 1st place/Graduate Competition
•Ngong Justin Chee (Yaounde, Centre) 2nd place/Graduate Competition
•Patricia Zanini Graca, Curitiba, Parana, Brazil Honorable Mention/Graduate Competition


•Karen Lu, Cooper City, FL
•Tinayeishe Elohim Nota, Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe
•Jeramie Paz, Griffin, GA
•Jemimah Emily Rajack, Fairfax, VA
•Caroline Hadley McCutcheon Copeland, Dallas, TX
•Sofia Calvo Castillo, Summit, NJ
•Sierra Kennard, Falls Church, VA
•Andrea Grman, Vienna, Austria

To read more stories about Seton Hall, scroll down:

Seton Hall Diplomacy Professor Receives $250,000 Luce Foundation Grant
Seton Hall Students Make Spiritual Trek to ‘Middle Earth,’ Journey Filmed by EWTN
Seton Hall Diplomacy Professor Initiates UN Action Plan

Seton Hall Diplomacy Professor Receives $250,000 Luce Foundation Grant

Maritime disputes related to the South China Sea could have a major impact on peace and security in the Asia Pacific region as well as on the United States. Without meaningful dialogue between the U.S and China, a widening perception gap over the conflict is likely to further destabilize relations between the two superpowers. These issues are complicated further by the political and diplomatic transitioning underway in the U.S.

Professor Zheng Wang, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations, has initiated a new endeavor of global negotiation and conflict resolution to bring together both parties. The project is being supported through a generous $250,000 award to Seton Hall University from the Henry Luce Foundation to enhance dialogue around the South China Sea conflict. The goals of the project are to help American and Chinese scholarly and policy communities understand each other’s perspectives on the South China Sea, and to bring potential consequences of conflict into sharper focus.

An active scholar in China foreign policy, East Asian nationalism and identity politics, Wang is an influential commentator on global policy issues. He is a Carnegie Fellow at New America, a Global Fellow at the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations (NCUSCR). He has briefed the State Department and members of Congress on foreign policy matters pertaining to China, and recently accompanied a congressional delegation to Japan and South Korea. He has also been featured in the New York Times, the Financial Times¸ NPR and a recent documentary on the South China Sea disputes on PBS, among others.

Wang is collaborating with Zhu Feng, executive director of the China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea, based at Nanjing University in China. The project is built around the method of interactive conflict resolution, or ICR, in which thought leaders representing both countries will participate in a series of carefully planned and facilitated dialogue sessions that aim to increase communication, develop mutual understanding and produce positive policy outcomes.

Following the announcement of the grant, Andrea Bartoli, dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, said, “We are pleased to be working with the Henry Luce Foundation on this innovative project, particularly at such a critical moment in U.S./China relations. By leading this initiative, the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies is contributing to work that can have a positive impact on peacebuilding, which benefits us all.”

Helena Kolenda, who directs the Luce Foundation’s Asia Program, notes, “The Henry Luce Foundation’s Asia Program pursues two interrelated goals, one is fostering cultural and intellectual exchange between the United States and the countries of East and Southeast Asia, and the second is creating scholarly and public resources for improved understanding of Asia in the United States. Within our grantmaking, we support research and dialogue efforts with policy relevance. Seton Hall’s project is in line with these aims and is timely given current tensions in the region surrounding the South China Sea.”

Wang said, “Constructive contact between the U.S. and Chinese policy communities can prevent misinterpretation and misjudgment and is the first step toward developing viable policy options.” He sees the project as an opportunity to reinvigorate bilateral dialogue and establish a “new voice at a critical time in our history.” Ultimately, he shares that, the work could bring about a transformation of perceptions and attitudes that result in concrete proposals for conflict management and the peaceful resolution of the China Sea conflict.

Wang received start-up funding from the Luce Foundation to support the first phase of his work facilitating communication on the South China Sea conflict. That project began with a one-day conference in December 2016, at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at John Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. Participants included directors, deans, and presidents of China’s four top think tanks and a bipartisan U.S. delegation of policy experts from the Center of New American Security, The Heritage Foundation and the Center for Naval Analyses.

The most recent grant will enable the continuation of that dialogue at a three-day ICR conference in China in Fall 2017, hosted by Nanjing University. Zheng hopes to engage new members in the facilitated conference and several smaller workshops, which will bring together scholars and military officers from China, as well as new appointees who are advising the Trump administration on foreign policy. The group will continue the dialogue in December 2018. The approach being taken in terms of the group’s structure is sometimes referred to as “1.5 track diplomacy,” because it extends engagement beyond top-level government and diplomatic officials to include scholars, current and retired military officials and others who often have been directly engaged in the issues being examined and can influence policy outcomes.

School of Diplomacy dean, Andrea Bartoli, will possibly co-facilitate one of the dialogues. Formerly head of conflict resolution programs at George Mason University and Columbia University, Bartoli has served as a mediator or facilitator on numerous peacemaking initiatives including efforts in Mozambique, Kosovo and Burundi.

In addition to the ICR conference, plans for the project include the publication of two books on the South China Sea: the first focusing on Chinese perspectives on the dispute; and the second, examining the conflict within the context of U.S.-China bilateral relations.

The grant is the first for the School of Diplomacy’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, and will help elevate its role as an effective forum for policy discussion and debate on the national and international level. The Center promotes interdisciplinary research on a wide range of topics with an emphasis on conflict prevention, management, resolution, and post-conflict peace building and reconstruction. Through research, education and practice activities, faculty, students, alumni and colleagues work together to develop the interdisciplinary field of peace and conflict studies

Graduate students will be involved in assisting Wang in planning the conferences and workshops. Through the project, students at the School of Diplomacy will have an opportunity to engage in real world policy issues. This kind of hands-on experience, Wang says, transfers directly to students. He adds, “As practitioners, and as scholars, it is important to bring what we learn back to the classroom, and to provide opportunities for networking.” He adds, “this grant is a major investment in the Center’s work, one that will enable us to participate in national policy debate and contribute to conflict management practice between the two countries. We are grateful to the Luce Foundation for its partnership.”

Seton Hall Students Make Spiritual Trek to ‘Middle Earth,’ Journey Filmed by EWTN

There is no doubt that J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has touched many hearts with its wonderful tales of heroic deeds and battles. However, that’s not all there is to see, according to a Seton Hall Campus Minister, Brother Francis, and those who accompanied him this past winter break on a journey through “Middle Earth,” or at least the locations in New Zealand at which the fictional land in Tolkien’s famed trilogy was filmed for the movies.

The group visiting “Middle Earth” consisted of seven Seton Hall students, Brothers Francis and John Paul of the Child Jesus Community of St. John, two crew members from Catholic TV station Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) and Catholic Register reporter Rachel Zamarron.

The Seton Hall contingent set out on this trip to New Zealand as a capstone to their program, which met each week over the course of a year and a half to discuss The Lord of the Rings and the Christian and Catholic symbolism that Brother Francis says pervades the Tolkien series and provides it some of its beauty. The reporters from EWTN and the Catholic Register went to chronicle the adventure, spiritual and otherwise.

The Seton Hall students on the trip to were Richard Boytis, Kiley Britten, Laura Cavanagh, Matthew Peluso, Jocelyn Rogalo, Monica Sowa and Zachary Strouse.

Tolkien, being a devout Catholic , wrote in one of his letters about the series of books, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

It is exactly this religious element absorbed into the story that the students focused upon in their weekly meetings in the program put together by Brother Francis. Students examined the Catholic roots of The Lord of The Rings in both book and film, and discussed in depth the themes and moments that are in some sense analogous to Christ’s journey.

After three semesters of inquiry, analysis and discussion, the group decided it would be of benefit to take in first-hand the sights through which the characters they grew to love had trekked.

In New Zealand, where the movies were filmed, this meant trips to such iconic fictional locations as “Hobbiton,” “Edoras,” and the less than cheerfully named “Mount Doom,” where students had the opportunity to take on the task of throwing a symbolic “one ring” away as the character Frodo was tasked with in the series.

But the students on the trip did more than just throw away rings and sightsee the beautiful vistas that surrounded them, they had the opportunity to celebrate mass in these locations and reflect on the divinity of pure nature on Earth.

“The thing that has impacted me the most on this trip has been all the natural beauty I’ve been able to see through all the mountain ranges, the valleys, the rivers, the lakes and streams; all the wonderful things that I see and that I know God made for us to enjoy,” sophomore history major Matthew Peluso told EWTN.

“Pilgrimage and mission trips can be very powerful experiences for the students who experience them. These trips provide students with the opportunity to encounter and connect with God in people, places, and situations that they would ordinarily not experience God,” Campus Ministry Director Father Brian Needles noted. “The trips are not vacations, but rather spiritual journeys which help students to awaken or deepen in themselves a sense of the divine.”

Brothers Francis and John Paul helped foster that sense of pilgrimage amidst the divine as they promoted fellowship through the adventure and sanctity in the communal celebration of mass.

The voyagers looked out for each other while hiking through some of the arduous, if not treacherous, terrain of “Middle Earth.”

“We found ourselves walking through areas where there’s always something bigger than you, and if I had been by myself it would’ve been scary or unnerving,” said sophomore Zachary Strouse. “With the group there it felt like we could overcome all the mountains about it. The fellowship, no pun intended, meant the most to me, because we triumphed those treks together.”

Brother Francis added, “Traveling to the one of the most beautiful countries in the world, to the places where Sir Peter Jackson produced his amazing movies, was an incredible opportunity to join together both imagination and reality in a way that it might be able to bear some spiritual fruits.” He continued, “To touch through that beauty the reality of God that so many nowadays think to be just a dream.”

The documentary about the trip will premiere in the fall of 2017 on EWTN.

Seton Hall Diplomacy Professor Initiates UN Action Plan

This past summer, School of Diplomacy and International Relations Assistant Professor and Secretary of the United Nations Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organizations (UN DPI/NGO) Executive Committee, Rev. Brian K. Muzas, served on the Committee of Experts in the 66th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference, held in Gyeonju, Republic of Korea. As a member of the Committee, he joined other esteemed academics, including: Dr. Mary E. Norton of Felician University, the Franciscan University of New Jersey, Daniel Perell of Baha’i International Community, Dr. Paul Lim of Vanderbilt University’s School of Divinity, and Dr. Jae-Chun Won from the Republic of Korea. In close collaboration with all conference participants, the Committee produced a document entitled the “Gyeonju Action Plan,” outlining an array of initiatives that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world can implement to address Sustainable Development Goal #4 – Quality Education, with a focus on “education for Global Citizenship.” Subsequently, under the sponsorship of Republic of Korea, the Committee’s Plan was presented to the UN General Assembly during its 70th Session in July. The body, consisting of representatives from 193 member states, adopted the Action Plan, and a cover letter of Permanent Representative Oh Joon, as an official UN document, A/70/980 under agenda item 20, sustainable development.

The Action Plan comes as a result of an arduous and complex creation process. The Committee of Experts started work prior to the conference, developing an original draft that was first circulated among the New York-based echelons of the NGO and UNDPI community. After receiving initial feedback, another draft was then posted online for all of civil society to access and comment on. The final, and most extensive step, took place on site in Korea during the conference. The Committee had the draft of the Action Plan literally posted on the walls and provided sticky notes and pens so conference attendees could write and share their comments in a concrete manner. Further, the Committee held Town Halls that provided the opportunity for attendees to voice their opinions about the Action Plan’s content directly to its writers. Dr. Paul Lim acted as a combination of moderator and translator in these events. After navigating the contrasting views brought to light through the feedback processes, and with the support of Korean government representatives and UN figures including Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division in UNDPI, the Committee finalized a draft of the Plan at 3:33am. Later that morning, the Committee stood before the entire Conference and read the Action Plan, word for word. Their work was received with resounding enthusiasm. Finally, after the multiple iterations, extensive feedback, and intense discussions, the Conference adopted the Action Plan by acclamation.

In a letter to the President of the UN General Assembly, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea introduced the Plan, and offered it for adoption as an official UN document. As an active participant in the creation of the document, Father Brian Muzas expressed positive outlook on the final results, stating, “I’m proud of this accomplishment, and hopeful that it is the beginning of more good things to come.” The General Assembly’s circulation of the Plan as an official document illustrates the collaborative relationship between the United Nations and a multitude of non-governmental organizations, and highlights the efficacy of NGO participation in the shaping of UN discourse. Such a move is pertinent considering the number of important roles NGOs will play in the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.