Applications of Digital Learning Professional Development: Sparking Intergenerational Dialogue and Global Change-Work


Dr. Yan Xu, Online Undergraduate Program Director & eSpelman Online Program Director, Spelman College; Evelyn Chao, Student from Sidwell Friends School & Founder and President of PM Ready

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On January 30, 2024, I had the privilege of attending the UN 2024 ECOSOC Partnership Forum held at the UN Headquarters in New York. The theme of the forum was “Reinforcing the 2030 Agenda and eradicating poverty in times of multiple crises: the effective delivery of sustainable, resilient, and innovative solutions.”

This marked my inaugural engagement with the UN. I was there not as a speaker but as a chaperone for my high school daughter, Evelyn Chao, who had been invited to participate in her capacity as the founder of a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, PM Ready. Evelyn contributed to discussions centered on Sustainable Development Goal #17, “Partnerships for the goals,” during a side event titled “CoCreating the Future with new thinking, culture, digital innovation, and local pacts for the future,” chaired by Miroslav Polzer, Founder & CEO of the International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges (IAAI).

The story of our UN journey traces back to 2022 when I completed the OLC Institute of Emerging Leaders of Online Learning (IELOL) Global program. This immersive professional development opportunity was deeply entrenched in the themes of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Since its inception in 2015, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, along with its 17 SDGs, has served as a catalyst for transformative actions across governments and stakeholders, aiming at bettering the lives of people, preserving the planet, and fostering prosperity.

My participation in IELOL Global 2022 spurred contemplation on how the 17 SDGs could provide a comprehensive and inclusive framework to steer our collective endeavors towards effecting enduring change for the betterment of humanity. The collaborative projects undertaken during IELOL Global 2022 exemplified the integration of each SDG within distinct digital learning challenges. My colleagues—Jean Mandernach, Dawn Ford, and Tianhong Shi—collaboratively developed a Google Site titled “Post-Pandemic Teaching and Learning: Revisiting Common Practices.”

At a family gathering, I relayed my IELOL experience to Evelyn, who, at the time, was in 8th grade. With a gleam of excitement in her eyes, Evelyn remarked, “Now I understand how to align my service endeavors with global imperatives, using a language understood by people from diverse corners of the world.” At that time, she was at her middle school’s Yearbook Committee. During the pandemic, she had been a bilingual Chinese-English book club host for a nonprofit, reading books to elementary kids in China and the U.S. I asked, “What language might that be?” To which she promptly responded, “The SDGs – a universal language of change-making!”

Following Evelyn’s attainment of her Project Management Ready Certification from the Project Management Institute in April 2023, she embarked on establishing an online platform, PM Ready, to promote project management leadership among young people and foster intergenerational dialogue on project leadership. By that December, PM Ready had evolved into a national 501(c)3 nonprofit, offering monthly virtual events, youth mentorship programs, and student competitions. As the pioneer youth-led nonprofit organization in project management, PM Ready has garnered support from esteemed entities such as the Project Management Institute Washington D.C. and Silver Spring chapters, PM World Journal, Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, local community centers, libraries, and businesses.

The plenary session of the Forum, held on the morning of January 30, featured addresses by Member States, observers, UN entities, and stakeholders. In her reflections noted during the session, Evelyn emphasized, “The realization of SDGs hinges on effective project implementation, and youth can play a pivotal role in driving the success of any projects.” Subsequently, during her talk at a side event following the plenary session, Evelyn invited youth-oriented organizations to collaborate with PM Ready to foster youth empowerment and leadership development. She underscored that young individuals like herself are enthusiastic about making a difference, but need inspiration, guidance, and mentorship to translate their aspirations into action and impact. Evelyn iterated that empowering youth with project management mindsets is indispensable for realizing SDGs, particularly SDG 17 “Partnership for the goals.”

After the Forum, Evelyn and I reflected on our UN trip experience. I asked Evelyn about her new perception of PM Ready’s significance. With conviction, she remarked, “It is about advancing SDGs or making any meaningful change through leadership and collaboration.” I followed up and asked: “So what would be your new goal?” After some thought, she said: “I am going to create an online course on project management for youth and host a virtual camp for youth so we can learn from each other!” I laughed: “Sounds like you are ready to join OLC IELOL Global in just a few years!”

Evelyn’s new goal resonated deeply with me, affirming the value of my participation in IELOL Global 2022 and the subsequent sharing of that experience with Evelyn. Together, let us continue nurturing and inspiring the leaders of tomorrow, irrespective of their backgrounds or origins.

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