The Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference (WOMC) was one of the best and the most valuable experiences I have ever had in the process of development of my career and the field I want to perform. The conference was hosted for the first time by Utah Valley University (UVU) students with a leading role of the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at UVU on October 7-9, 2015. It was a big challenge which I was afraid to take when some of my peers asked me during summer 2015 whether I am interested to be a member of the student team and to host the event under the auspice of the United Nations. The conference represented the experiential learning model, when we, students were provided the opportunities to develop valuable professional skills and experiences by hosting on our such a big international event and our teachers served as advisors and monitored from the distance how we were taking care of all aspects of the conference.
When at the beginning I agreed to be a moderator of the panel about climate change impact on families and mountain communities, everything was so inconclusive, and I didn’t feel that I was ready to accomplish the requested goal and take care of the panel. I believed that’s what my panel co-moderator exactly felt. I worked along with Henintsoa (Hensu) Rakotoarisaona from Madagascar, my student colleague from the UVU College of Science and Health. Our senior colleague, Deann Torsak, the executive secretary of the WOMC provided us a lot of help by advising how the panel works and what we needed to do as moderators on all stages of the conference. We were in touch with her on a weekly basis by e-mail and getting together on certain days to report about progress with our panel and what still needs to be done. Also, we were in need to do research and read special literature about climate change and gender issues provided to us by our advisors. Hensu also proved herself as hardworking and professionally strong and together with her we were able to assemble a list of speakers to our panel. Also, we were fortunate to have Dr. Daniel Horns, Associate Dean of the UVU College of Science and Health as one of the advisors for our panel. His knowledge and experiences related to the climate change and its impact on mountain families and communities were very impressive and helpful for us. He helped us in all stages of the conference from the preparations until its final days and even after the end of the gathering when we worked on the adoption of the final document of the conference.
I was always aware of the topics the conference was focusing on, but never realized there were a lot of things we could do to support the sustainable development goals under the United Nations Umbrella. Once I started to get more involved and when we start to find speakers that were able to talk about climate change, I felt we were in the right way. The opportunity of being able to expand my knowledge in these issues and also to share information about my country, Colombia with my peers was one of the most important parts of my activities as well.
(R to L): Daniela Moncada, Ron A. Harris Professor of Geology, Brigham Young University, Dr. Horns, Associate Dean, College of Science and Health, UVU, and Michael Bunds Associate Professor and Department Chair, Structural Geology and Tectonics, UVU discuss participation at the conference
One of the first things I did was to send a call for papers for the conference to faculty in different universities in Utah, neighboring states, some other institutions and NGOs active in climate change. After that, I focused on getting a list of possible speakers. I have to admit that I had thoughts of failure; I wonder how professors and some important people I was trying to reach through email will pay attention to me or would take the time to read my emails since I was sending it from my personal email. I think that was the primary challenge of the conference since was the first time to be held by students. A week passed, and I was not getting any response from any email I sent. I started to feel lost and out of motivation looking at my colleagues that were reaching speakers, not only two but more than 4 and some of them internationally.
Daniela Moncada Prepares Dr. Steven Emerman, Associate Professor-Hydrology, UVU for Presentations at the Conference
I remember mentioned to our advisors about the situation, but they always encouraged us to keep trying, do not give up and work hard and I was not an exception to that. It helped me to be persistent and to push hard until at least I get a response. Well at the beginning my motivation increased and decreased, I got responses but mostly rejecting the opportunity to be speakers. Even though I continued to make additional efforts and by the end I was able to contact some potential speakers that were finally included in the agenda.
Once we were at the conference, I was able to develop skills in moderating the conference and to interact with presenters, to be able to analyze their papers, summarize recommendations and then to provide them to the secretariat of the conference, which worked on preparing the draft of the final document of the conference.
One of the reasons I decided to study Political Science was the fact to be able in the future to work with the United Nations. I have to say that at the end of the conference I felt myself a little bit sad because we made some mistakes and missed some speakers in our panel, but I understood that was something beyond our control. I can say it was one of the greatest experiences I had to have and I am grateful to had the opportunity of being part of the organizing committee, being among so many interesting people from around the world. The final result highlighted by successful hosting the conference by our team, encouraged me to keep working hard and believe that no matter the challenges or obstacles I can face, that can not stop me. I had also never imagined how many talented people I was able to meet, working under the umbrella of the United Nations was one of my dreams and goals I wanted to achieve.
I am looking forward to more conferences and to keep working on promoting the sustainable mountain development and to contribute to the mitigation of the climate change impact on our communities, and bringing awareness about those issues not only in Utah but back home in Colombia and the rest of the world.
Daniela Moncada, Climate Change, Natural Hazards and Gender Panel Moderator, Women of the Mountains Conference