Continuing Traditions of the Sustainable Mountain Development Club

(L to R): Andrew Jensen, Brandon Merrill and Sam Elzinga during the meeting

On May 24, 2018 members of the Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD) Club at Utah Valley University (UVU) planned to have a meeting with focus on preparations to the visit and participation at the United Nations High Level Political Forum in July 16-19, 2018. Due to a number of issues, the meeting was postponed to a different date. Instead, Sam Elzinga, a member of the SMD club and the President of the Foreign Affairs club at UVU and myself were able to get together with Brandon Merrill, a UVU graduate, the first President of SMD club and now a legal advocate for the non-governmental organization “The Never Again Foundation” from Queen Creek, Arizona. The Never Again Foundation is a nonprofit charity that provides legal assistance to families of victims killed by domestic violence. (For more information, see: )

Brandon came to the university to participate at the first ever UVU Conference on Ending Domestic Violence, hosted by several UVU schools, including the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Sorensen Student Center. The conference opening keynote speaker was Victor Rivas Rivers, a veteran film star, best-selling author, renowned advocate for violence prevention, and the first Cuban-born football player to land a tryout with the Miami Dolphins. Another dignitary, Lundy Bancroft, was chair of the afternoon plenary session. Lundy Bancroft has authored five books in the field, including the U.S.’s best-selling book on domestic violence, “Why Does He Do That?”, and the national prizewinner The Batterer as Parent.

Brandon found time in his conference schedule to visit the office of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU  and chat a little bit with both of us and Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, Advisor of the UIMF. It was his special pleasure to do that and remind us that he was among the first students at UVU to establish UIMF and to be the first President of the SMD club.

He remembered, with special warmth, his years at UVU and how he was able to contribute towards hosting the second international Women of the Mountains Conference in March 2011. More than 60 students successfully hosted it for the first time on their own as a student engaged learning initiative. As a result of that success, they decided to establish UIMF during the summer of that same year and Brandon Merrill became both one of the vice Presidents of the UIMF and the President of the newly created SMD club. He mentioned with special pleasure how he worked together then with John McClure, the first President of UIMF, Jesse Gray, and Jordan Giles, his VPs at that time.

Brandon contributed a number of activities to the SMD agenda promotion both in the State of Utah and abroad: he not only shared the stories of how he hosted International Mountain Days at UVU and campaigns to raise funds to provide solar energy kits for several countries in Africa  (See:, but also showed us his face on posters which hang now at the UIMF office at UVU. (See: )

As a result of his involvement with the advocacy of the SMD agenda at UVU, Brandon decided to continue his education in that area and graduated from Vermont Law School. His current job and activities are related to the topics which he focused during his time at UVU. He also follows up the progress at UVU with the SMD agenda. Brandon was very happy to know that UVU students were able to successfully advocate for the mountain women cause at the 62nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women during March 19-21, 2018.

During the meeting, we agreed to continue our relationships and count on Brandon Merrill’s support to UIMF activities as an alumni. Brandon mentioned that he still has many previous ties worldwide with focus on SMD promotion and would be glad to share them with current UIMF and SMD club members.

It was a very interesting and inspiring meeting with Brandon Merrill, one of the founders of UIMF and the SMD club.

Andrew Jensen, President Model UN Club