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Azerbaijan on Multifaith Harmony and Peaceful Coexistence: Presentation at Utah Valley University by H.E. Nasimi Aghayev

The Utah Valley University (UVU) Office of Global Engagement hosted His Excellency Nasimi Aghayev, Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles on Monday, October 8, 2018. Mr. Aghayev, a senior official representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan to California and twelve other states, spoke on the efforts of Azerbaijan to foster multifaith harmony and presented a model on peaceful coexistence focused on religious cooperation. In his presentation, the Consul General described ways that Azerbaijan works with a number of religious communities both in and outside of the country to overcome interfaith challenges and promote religious diversity and civic unity.

Consul General Aghayev during presentation at UVU

Consul General Aghayev began his presentation by describing his country’s unique geopolitical importance, bordering Iran, Russia, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia, and praised the long tradition of tolerance in Azerbaijan, noting the country’s grant to women and other groups of equal voting rights in 1919, which predated many other advanced countries, including the United States. The Consul General also stated that the desire for free religious expression and harmonious interfaith relations was augmented by the religious oppression experienced while under Soviet rule from 1920-1991, in which atheism was generally promoted and religious groups were persecuted.

After 1991, the Consul General stated that religious harmony became a large priority of the newly independent state. In describing the religious demographics of Azerbaijan, Consul General Aghayev emphasized the high level of religious tolerance in his country, which is uncharacteristic of other Muslim majority nations in the region. While 93% of Azerbaijan is Muslim, with 70% of those being Shiites and 30% being Sunnis, the country also is home to a number of Christians and Jews, who make up close to 5% of the population, and are able to pray, worship, and celebrate freely. The Consul General described a number of important non-Muslim religious sites in the country that predate the Republic of Azerbaijan itself, including a Zoroastrian fire temple in Baku, the nation’s capital, that has been maintained as an ode to the country’s roots as a place of religious tolerance. Additionally, the Consul General noted the early roots of Christianity with the evangelism of Bartholomew and the many old Christian churches found in Baku and throughout the country as evidence of Azerbaijan’s long history of interreligious engagement and tolerance.

Consul General Aghayev praised the strong religious dialogue of modern Azerbaijan as a model for religious diversity and civic peace that can be applied to other nations in the region and throughout the world to foster harmony, promote diversity, and coordinate interfaith efforts. Consul General Aghayev noted the high degree of religious tolerance between Azerbaijani Muslims, who do not see major differences between Shi’a and Sunni. The Consul General described the worship held at the largest mosque in the country, the Heydar Mosque, in which Sunnis and Shiites pray and worship together. Additionally, members of the two sects often intermarry, adding to the religious harmony of the country. Furthermore, Muslims and non-Muslims successfully coexist, interacting mutually in religious celebrations and civic life. The Consul General described the experience of local Jews who built a funeral tent and ceremony in the yard of a popular imam whose mother had recently passed away. Also, Pope Francis recently visited the country, citing the respect for diversity and harmony that Azerbaijan shows to religious groups, as well as the efforts of Azerbaijan to aid the Vatican in preserving catacombs and cathedrals in Europe. Furthermore, Muslims, Jews, and Christians hold offices in the government and work together, without respect of religion, to both foster religious diversity and support local religious groups and to solve local and national issues that transcend religious boundaries.

In a question and answer period, Consul General Aghayev further defined his model for multifaith harmony and peaceful coexistence. The Consul General noted that in a region of the globe that is not usually characterized by religious tolerance and acceptance, Azerbaijan became a model for such as a result of its long history of diverse religious groups living and interacting with each other, its staunch secularism, which emphasized normal relations, and its high level of education. The Consul General emphasized the 99% literacy rate in the country as key to understanding complex religious issues and working with other religions to cooperate on religious and non-religious issues. Additionally, Consul General Aghayev notes that the government of Azerbaijan often facilitates interfaith conferences and events that bring religious leaders of all faiths together. Yearly, the country hosts an interfaith conference that promotes religious leaders setting the example for coexistence, early education of youth on religious matters, and developing laws against discrimination. In particular, the Consul General noted the efforts of his government and religious leaders to coordinate efforts to shield the youth from extremism.

Consul General Aghayev presented a model of harmony and coexistence with the intention that Azerbaijan’s example be followed in other countries, especially Middle Eastern ones, who grapple with balancing religious fervor with diversity and the constraints of globalization and modernity. Reiterating the communality of Shiites and Sunnis in his country, the Consul General noted the importance of good relations by describing Azerbaijan’s geopolitical relationship with Iran, noting that the 30 million ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran facilitate a mutual interest for normal relations. Consul General Aghayev stated that his country’s commitment to religious harmony assists in diplomatic endeavors and foreign relations in general, as the country is often a leading voice in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on matters of Muslim prosperity and, more recently, Muslim-Israeli relations. The Consular General noted the economic cooperation Azerbaijan engages in with Israel, Iraq, India, and others to foster regional and global unity.

Amy Barnett, UVU Office of Global Engagement Presents An Award to Consul General Nasimi Aghayev  

The visit of Consul General Nasimi Aghayev to UVU provided an important discussion of how religious groups can attempt to resolve differences and coordinate religious and secular efforts to improve local and regional relationships. The example of Azerbaijan as a regional leader in advancing constructive religious dialogue and interfaith efforts to improve civic, political, and regional issues is one that should be seriously considered by those interested in diplomacy, sustainable development, and religious relevance. Certainly, the model offered by the Consul General should be discussed as a tool that leaders and organizations can use to solve critical issues that involve and transcend religious identification. I very much appreciate the efforts of the UVU Office of Global Engagement to bring such a high-level official to our campus.

Michael Hinatsu, Political Science Major Student, Utah Valley University.


AZERTAG about the visit          Video about the visit


Photos of the CG of Azerbaijan, Mr. Nasimi Aghayev visit to UVU




Hagen Isaacson        Brandon Pedler

Emma Warner                   Cory Levin

Jesse Sandstrom               Joy Black 

Rebecca Bindraban


UIMF follows up HLPF 2018 by co-hosting PR of Tajikistan to the UN, Ambassador Mahmadaminov at UVU

            On October 5th, 2018, The Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU), (  co-hosted the Permanent Representative of Tajikistan to the United Nations (UN), Mr. Mahmadamin Mahmadaminov. Ambassador Mahmadaminov visited Utah during October 3-6, 2018. He made his major presentation titled: Tajikistan and the SDGs before UVU students and faculty on October 5, 2018.    As part of established tradition, the UVU Office of Global Engagement provided an opportunity to members of the Foreign Affairs Club and UIMF through student engaged learning model to highlight UIMF’s accomplishments in SDG advocacy at the local, national, and international levels since 2011. This was as well as follow up on previous discussions and activities held by UIMF delegation and myself with PR of Tajikistan to the UN at the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development in July of 2018.  In addition, it was an opportunity for UIMF to discuss joint activities at the UN in 2019 with focus on implementation of mountain targets.

Personally, I really enjoyed helping to co-host Mr. Mahmadaminov due to my keen interest in Central Asia, and I am very grateful I can expand my own knowledge and raise an awareness about countries of the region among my peers.

A group photo with Ambassador Mahmadaminov

In order to demonstrate how the student engaged learning model works more than ten members of UIMF were involved in preparations and co-hosting the VIP-guest.  In order to coordinate their efforts as a team and to do that successfully we gathered every week and followed up with assignments defined in a special task list posted online, it was important for my peers at our coalition of clubs.

I helped to some members of UIMF, like Joseph Lloyd, Hagen Issakson, Megan Davis,  to learn how to coordinate with the UVU Office of Global Engagement our plans in highlighting before the high-level dignitary in a special meeting their concern about lack of sustainable development among mountain communities globally and what UIMF was able to do accomplish in that area since founding in 2011.

The meeting was attended by many students, including the Post-Soviet and Political Science classes, brought by our faculty, like Dr. Abdrisaev and Dr. England. During UIMF’s meeting with Mr. Mahmadaminov, many students were able to highlight UIMF’s accomplishments through a series of presentations. I introduced every speaker – member of UIMF.   Mr. Hagen Isaacson, the Foreign Affairs Club Treasurer, was the first to give an overview of UIMF activities in promoting the UN sustainable mountain development agenda since 2011 and presented Mr. Mahmadaminov with a folder of documents highlighting UIMF’s in the UN official documents and recent commendation in the Congressional Record. Hagen also discussed why mountain targets are so important and how UIMF has a long history of advocating for mountain people. He emphasized a focus of Tajikistan on implementation of the SDG#6 on water and that the mountain target# 6.6 is included in that SDG. He proposed that it would be great if Tajikistan will work with UIMF and UVU on their joint implementation in 2019 at the UN. Next, Ms. Megan Davis, Director of Public Relations at UIMF,  explained how UIMF implements student engaged learning to advocate for the implementation of mountain targets locally, nationally, and internationally since 2011. Next up was Mr. Mark Driggs, vice president of campus outreach, who highlighted UIMF’s most recent activities at the United Nations, namely Commission of the Status of Women and the 2018 HLPF on Sustainable Development. Ms. Viktoriia Bahrii, vice president of logistics, spoke next on partnerships with various NGOs and permanent missions, noting our successful co-hosting of a side event with the Permanent Missions of Uzbekistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ms. Bahrii then invited Mrs. Marcia Barlow, Vice President of International Programs for United Families International (UFI) to discuss further United Families International-UN relations and also highlight activities her NGO participates in Central Asia. After that, I introduced to Ambassador Mahmadaminov the Youth and the Mountains Journal, a student-run journal student reasearch on sustainable mountain development.

At the end of the meeting, Abeir Isawhy, UVU student was provided an opportunity to ask question about Tajikistan and in particular a new dam which country plans to build now. Ambassador explained how the dam would benefit both Tajikistan’s economy and its neighbors as well.

I learned a lot also when Mr. Mahmadaminov had a lecture on Tajikistan and the implementation of the SDGs in the country. Tajikistan is a country not many people know about and seeing members of UIMF and the Foreign Affairs learn about a unique country was truly great. Tajikistan, and Mr. Mahmadaminov in particular, have championed the cause of SDG6, which focused on clean water and sanitation. During my visit to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development in July of 2018, I was invited to a follow-up presentation on Tajikistan’s Water Decade Initiative. Learning about this initiative at an in-depth level was very fascinating, and it was great to see how Tajikistan has continued to promote sustainable water use. This is particularly pertinent to UIMF’s activities as SDG 6.6 deals directly with water preservation in mountainous regions.

Ambassador Mahmadaminov also had a lot to say about counterterrorism and national security matters. I found this to be particularly interesting because I am focusing primarily on Central Asian national security issues, which Tajikistan plays a major role. I was very happy to hear about Tajikistan’s initiatives related to national security.

Another important part of student engaged learning was the participation of several members of UMF at lunch in honor of the VIP-guest. UVU Global Engagement office does that during last several years to provide students an opportunity to strengthen their diplomatic abilities. I was happy to see that Andrew Jensen, Hagen Isaacson, Megan Davis, and Kendra, Martell,  four members of UIMF were able to interact with Ambassador Mahmadaminov during lunch.

Overall, this visit was another success for UIMF and the Foreign Affairs Club in promoting the implementation of the mountain targets during 2018 and especially in co-hosting the first dignitary visit during the fall semester 2018. Many of them, like Hailee-Hodgson, Laila MitchellBrandon PedlerKyle Williams  and others were able to work sucessfully as a team and see results of their efforts.   Students in the audience, like Michael Hinatsu ,   Matthew Simon ,   Kenya LitsterMax Mortenson,  Mary Nelson  and Cory Levin    had an opportunity to see and learn how engaged learning model works and get involved in future activities of UIMF if they would like.  I am so incredibly proud of all my club members and the work they put in to ensure our contribution to hosting Mr. Mahmadaminov’s visit was successful.

Samuel Elzinga, President, UIMF and Foreign Affairs Club at UVU




Task list for the visit of Ambassador Mahmadaminov 





Samuel Elzinga – An announcement about the visit of Ambassador Mahmadaminov to UVU

Hagen Isaacson                Hailee-Hodgson

Laila Mitchell                             Joseph Lloyd

Megan Davis



Michael Hinatsu                    Emma Warner

   Matthew Simon                     Kenya Litster 

Brandon Pedler              Max Mortenson

Kyle Williams                          Mary Nelson 

Cory Levin

2017 Issue of the Youth and the Mountains Journal

The 2017 issue of the Youth and the Mountains journal at Utah Valley University (UVU) continues established tradition to promote Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD) agenda of the United Nations (UN) in the State of Utah, North America, and globally through research as part of the UVU student engaged learning model. As a co-curricular pedagogy with the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of clubs at UVU ( at its core, the initiative engages students, both non-traditional and traditional ones, across the campus, in the implementation of the UN SMD agenda since 2006. Co-editors of the journal A. Kathryn Chapman and myself are non-traditional students as well.

The first section of this journal includes written joint statements made during 2007 by the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, the Mountain Institute, Utah China Friendship Improvement Sharing Hands Development, and Commerce, non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Three NGOs recognized the UVU student contribution to the SMD through the engaged learning initiative at the 53rd session of the UN Commission on Social Development and the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Student research papers included in the main part of this journal focus on subjects that range from mountain issues in the Hindu Kush to Utah’s energy and infrastructure to refugees in the United States. This issue of the journal shines a spotlight on mountainous regions and provides an increased perspective on how to improve the lives of people who live in these regions around the world.

As a part of the established tradition of demonstrating one of the elements of the engaged learning model, the journal includes in the third section two student reflective essays on the different aspects of student education.

The last section of the journal is dedicated to the memory of Josman Cereceres, President of the Sustainable Mountain Development club and UVU student, who untimely passed away in November 2017. It includes the Op-Ed on constitutionalism, which Josman published as a co-author in Deseret News in August 2017.

Please find enclosed a link to the 2017 issue of the Youth and the Mountains Journal at:

Rebecca Bindraban, Co-editor, Youth and the Mountains Journal

Club Rush Provides UIMF an Opportunity to Promote Mountain Cause


(L to R): Hagen Isaacson and Megan Davis during Club Rush

            On September 18th and 19th of 2018, I had the privilege of representing for the first time  the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF) (, a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU) at their table during UVU’s annual Club Rush event. We had a join table representing the Foreign Affairs Club, National Security Studies Club and Rotaract Club. This was an incredible opportunity to represent this outstanding coalition and help to share their ideas to promote United Nations agenda of Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD) with other students on campus. In addition, the participation at the Club Rush allowed for UIMF to earn funds to implement different initiatives by our coalition.  It was important for more than 15  members of UIMF who were assigned to be at the table during the event to work as one team and be at the table during assigned time frames to ensure that somebody will be able to interact with the student audience and explain the mission and priorities of the coalition and recruit new members.

On the first day of the event I was at the table for the opening hour. During this time, I was working with Megan Davis and we got to experience the opening of the event. On the September 19th, I spent two hours working at the table with various other members. On both days I helped in cleaning up and putting the promotional items away at the end of the event.

As students approached the table we greeted them and informed them of the basic ideas of what UIMF does and how they could potentially benefit from working with us and promoting State of Utah as one of the best models of SMD both in this nation and globally. One of the greatest strengths of our organization is the fact that thanks to the focus on SMD advocacy we can use students involved in any major and give them productive jobs to benefit themselves and the club. As I would first start to have a conversation with some of the students I could tell that they felt like they weren’t a fit for what we do based on their field of study. As I explained more and more about UIMF you could see them change their mindset and realize that they really could help, even if their major has nothing to do with mountain development or politics. This was a great learning opportunity for me personally because it allowed me to practice interacting with other students and share the core ideas and functions of UIMF.

One of the Posters used during the Club Rush

Another huge benefit from helping with Club Rush was the knowledge I gained about the beliefs and ideas of the importance to promote SMD agenda through Utah International Mountain Forum: as a result, we could raise more awareness among ourselves and other audiences about necessity to advocate for sustainable development of mountain communities, who still remain among the poorest and the most forgotten ny international community. Being in the Foreign Affairs club and in a coalition is great because I get to interact with other like-minded members and discuss the issues of what we are doing. However, I found talking to people who had no idea what UIMF was or what it did way more interesting and beneficial because it helped me gain a better understanding. Having to be able to explain mountain development and the Utah model to students who had no previous knowledge forced me to understand the concepts in more depth and be capable of explaining it to these students in a clear way. It was an unbelievable experience to be able to communicate our message to my interested peers and see them become interested as well. Club Rush helped me to gain some practical knowledge of UIMF and allowed me to be able to spread it to other students.

(R to L): Kyle Warren, member and Kendra Martell, President of Rotaract Club talk to Sam Elzingga, President, Foreign Affairs Club ad Kyle Williams, member, Foreign Affairs Club during Club Rush    

Overall, Club Rush was a huge success and a great opportunity for new members like myself. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to spread the positive message of UIMF and engage others in gaining interest. I hope this event succeeded in putting our name out there and allows us to garner more support and grow to be even better.

Hagen Isaacson, member, Foreign Affairs Club at Utah Valley University


Mark Driggs-UIMF Participates in UVU Club Rush


Megan Davis-Advocating for Mountains during UVU Club Rush


Viktoriia Bahrii-UIMF at Utah Valley University Club Rush


Kyle Warren-Advocating Mountain Targets during UVU Club Rush


Mark Wayman about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

The Utah Valley University (UVU) Peace and Justice Studies program hosted Rick Wayman, Director of Programs at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), on September 11, 2018. During his presentation, Mr. Wayman discussed the international Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and how the treaty was devised, the prohibitions within the document and the positive obligations that accompany it, and the future of the United States’ involvement with the disarmament of nuclear weapons.

First, Mr. Wayman discussed how this treaty originated and gained traction to eventually make it to the United Nations (UN). Early on, before the treaty was established, countries including Hungary, Mexico, and Austria held conferences that highlighted some of the humanitarian issues brought on by nuclear weapons and the testing of them. These countries had survivors share their stories and express the pain and suffering that has been a result of these weapons. These smaller sessions helped to get the issue to the bigger world stage, the United Nations. In 2016, the UN held the first vote on the issue of nuclear weapon disarmament in the general session. Six months after that the treaty had its first round of debate. Shortly after this, in July of 2017, the treaty was agreed on by 122 nations of the world and became open to signatures and ratification. As of today, sixty-one countries have signed the document and fifteen have ratified it in their own countries. None of the nine countries that have nuclear capabilities have signed onto the treaty

Mr. Wayman then moved to explain the prohibitions and obligations within the treaty. The final text of the treaty contains many prohibitions on nuclear weapons; some being that nations cannot develop or research nuclear weapons, can’t transfer them to any state or group, can’t threaten to use these weapons, and cannot finance or invest in companies that produce nuclear weapons. The treaty also has a number of positive obligations placed on the countries who agree to it, a lot of which resulted from testimonies and research from non governmental organizations like NAPF. A few examples of these obligations are that nations provide victim assistance to those who have been affected by nuclear weapons in their country and they help to stabilize any part of the environment that has been impacted negatively by use of the weapons.

Finally, Mr. Wayman reviewed the United States’ stance on the treaty and how we can move forward towards progress of disarmament in our country. As the first discussions began, the US was quick to denounce the ideas behind the treaty, stating it was dangerous and could cause instability if countries gave up their nuclear arsenal. They encouraged other nations, especially those part of NATO, to not sign the treaty. This behavior was exerted by the Obama administration and the Trump administration has pushed it even harder. As the US State Department continues with this bipartisan agenda, Mr. Wayman proposed that the change is going to have to start on the state and local levels. Just recently California passed a resolution that called on the federal government to focus on the removal of nuclear weapons from the United States. This has no forceful backing, but is a start to a bigger movement that can bring around change. As more and more cities and states join in and express their concerns, it will eventually reach the point where our government has no choice but to listen to what they have to say.

This presentation was very informative on the highly important Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but also gave inspiration on how to get involved in making change in regards to nuclear weapons. This is a crucial point in our world, with nine countries possessing the ability of complete annihilation in a matter of minutes. We must urge our own government and nations around the world to commit to denuclearization, for the safety of ourselves and of future generations.

Hagen Isaacson, Member, Foreign Affairs club at Utah Valley University


Kyle Williams-Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons

Congressman from Utah recognizes student contribution to the mountain targets implementations at HLPF 2018

Congressman John Curtis (R-UT), made a statement at the U.S. House of Representatives on September 4, 2018 with recognition of members of the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University for their advocacy of the mountain communities and the promotion of the Utah model of sustainable mountain development.

Damon Ashcraft, Samuel Elzinga and Andrew Jensen, UIMF members participated at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York on July 16-19, 2018. They made an oral statement during general debates of the HLPF on Sustainable Development on July 19, 2018.

Below is the statement of Congressman John Curtis (R-UT): 


Mr. CURTIS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commend Samuel Elzinga, Damon Ashcraft, and Andrew Jensen, members of the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University,  on their recent success at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development under the auspices of ECOSOC on July 19, 2018 in New York. During general debates at that global forum, they highlighted the importance of advocating for mountain communities, who are among the most impoverished and forgotten communities globally. They demonstrated student engaged learning, one of UVU’s core philosophies, by planning every aspect of the trip, while Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, a UVU faculty member served them as a mentor to guide them through their endeavors. Through this engaged learning model, Samuel, Andrew, and Damon engaged also such non-governmental organizations registered with the ECOSOC as the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, the Mountain Institute and Utah China Friendship Improvement Sharing Hands Development and Cooperation. As a result, those NGOs provided them an opportunity to make an oral and written statement, highlighting the state of Utah as a model for sustainable mountain development. Utah is consistently ranked as one of the best states for doing business and has some of the fastest growing communities in the country. I am very proud they highlighted how students are able and have to be counted as contributors to sustainable development both in Utah and mountain communities worldwide. Below is their oral statement, which was presented during ECOSOC’s general debate on July 19th, 2018

Mountain Targets Implementations Through Student Engaged Learning

We thank the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences for allowing us to speak in support of mountain communities, who are among the poorest and most-neglected globally. Climate change and migration make their living conditions even worse. According to a recent study by the FAO-UN and the Mountain Partnership (MP) Secretariat, an estimated 39 percent of the mountain population in developing countries are vulnerable to food insecurity. From 2000 to 2012, there was a 30-percent increase in the number of mountain people vulnerable to food insecurity, with their population only increasing by 16 percent.

Two SDGs under the review of this forum contain three mountain targets and it must address the challenges facing mountain communities: Target 6.6: by 2020, protect and restore water related ecosystems, including mountains, …; Target 15.1: by 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular….mountains and drylands….; Target 15.4: by 2030, ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their capacity to provide benefits that are essential for sustainable development.

Since 2007, Utah Valley University, with the support of the Mountain Partnership, involves students, including non-traditional ones, in the implementation of mountain targets. Members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU, gain professional skills through an engaged learning model by addressing real-world problems of mountain communities with a faculty serving them as a mentor.

UIMF members have already advocated for the mountain women during the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Students, jointly with their Kyrgyz peers, reported about hosting the International Women of the Mountains conferences as an implementation of the UN Resolution “International Year of Mountains, 2002.” The 2016 UN Secretary-General’s Report on Sustainable Mountain Development featured recommendations provided by UIMF in the latest conference document about the role women play in implementation of two mountain targets.  Through the model students raised and contributed $250,000 to the mountain targets adoption and implementation.

The model demonstrates that students are able and must play an active role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It can be used by universities in rural and mountainous states worldwide to provide similar benefits to students, and to transform mountain communities towards sustainable and resilient societies.

Congressional Record, September 4, 2018, P. E1189


Mountain Partnership about UIMF members recognition by Congressman John Curtis (R-UT) 


UVU Rotaract and UIMF jointly will implement UN SDGs

(L to R): Samuel Elzinga, Kendra Martell and Enoch Chapman during the meeting.

As of Tuesday August 28th, 2018, the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of clubs at Utah Valley University, has added Rotaract, the university student branch of Rotary International, to its coalition. The partnership was formally established during our meeting with Kendra Martell, the current president of Rotaract. The partnership discussions were very substantive, and both clubs think it is in their mutual interest to forge a strong partnership.

The goals of UIMF and Rotaract are nearly one in the same, though the means by which they accomplish these goals are different. At UIMF, the ultimate goal is to promote the implementation of the United Nations (UN) mountain targets and the Utah model of sustainable mountain development on the global stage and in turn promote global advocacy through student engagement. Rotaract has a very similar goal of student involvement in the mission of Rotary International by providing opportunities for students to complete international service projects and attend global conferences on youth advocacy. With such similar missions, it makes sense why UIMF and Rotaract have forged a partnership.

We discussed also an idea about UIMF and UVU Rotaract making a joint statement during the United Nations forums on implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking into account that the Rotary International has a status of the non-governmental organization in a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations (UN). With the support of Orem Rotary club and UVU Rotaract, UIMF is confident this very well may become a reality at next year’s High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development when many SDGs relevant to Rotary International’s mission will be under review.

Ms. Martell seemed very excited to get UVU Rotaract involved with UIMF, and I am confident that our two organizations can benefit each other in a great deal of ways. With Rotary International so well connected to humanitarian work, which is a central theme in sustainable development, it was the next logical step as UIMF continues to grow.

Enoch Chapman, Rotarian with a very good knowledge about activities of Rotary International and Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, UIMF mentor participated at our meeting.

Samuel Elzinga, Vice President, Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University

Ms. Bridget Matty’s counter-terrorism presentation at Utah Valley University

The Utah Valley University (UVU) National Security Studies program hosted Ms. Bridget Matty, a regional representative for the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), on August 29, 2018. Ms. Matty spoke on the current state of counterterrorism, described the current terrorism threats, and talked generally on the role and mission of the NCTC. First, she presented a review of the past terrorism landscape, stating that in the wake of 9/11, counterterrorism was focused on Afghanistan and areas throughout the Middle East, where terrorist groups had clandestine, scattered presences. The context of pre-2011 counterterrorism was the post-Gulf War period of the mid 1990s, when Islamic extremist groups such as Al Qaeda became more prolific in attacks and mobilizing local influence. Additionally, the September 11 attacks and the ensuing Iraq and Afghanistan wars brought Islamism and Islamic extremism to the forefront of American Policy.

Ms. Bridget Matty during presentation

Ms. Matty then explained that the period from 2010 to 2014 was characterized by a substantial increase in terrorist propaganda on the internet, and that in 2011, the counterterrorism priority shifted from Afghanistan to Yemen, with Al Qaeda remaining the main focus. Additionally, terrorist groups in the Middle East spread their areas of influence, so that terrorist groups now held a greater presence throughout the Middle East and North and East Africa. Additionally, counterterrorist efforts began to focus on homegrown violent extremism (HVE), or instances of US citizens being mobilized into terrorist activities abroad. Matty spoke briefly on Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Yemeni imam who joined Al Qaeda and was instrumental in making recruitment videos for the group, as well as planning terrorist attacks.  She then explained that HVE is a small but important phenomenon, stating that while there are relatively few US citizens being mobilized into terrorist groups, the number is higher than most would realize; currently, 295 or so have been identified, being won over by groups such as Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The counterterrorism focus shifted again in 2014, with the rise of ISIS and the increase of terrorist fighters in the Middle East. ISIS proved popular among terrorists and extremists, gaining nearly 40,000 members mostly from Turkey, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia, but also attracting around 5600 people from western countries. Although ISIS wielded significant influence during this period, their influence has sharply decreased with coalition efforts—the group only controls 3% of the land it previously had in 2014, and the groups media output (i.e., propaganda propagation) decreased 70% during the latter half of 2017. Additionally, the group has less foreign fighters, and regional security groups and armed forces in the Middle East are responding more effectively to the threat of ISIS. ISIS is weak, Ms. Matty explained, because of lower talent pools, counterterrorism efforts outside of battlefield contexts, ideological disagreements among key ISIS leaders, lower funds, and the group’s tendency to claim all terrorist attacks as theirs, regardless if that is true. However, Ms. Bridget pointed out that ISIS still remains a threat and a focus of counterterrorism efforts, stating that while their land is largely gone, they are still wielding a presence in international affairs.

The state of terrorism in 2017 was the continued threats of Iraq, Syria, and Yemen (because of ISIS and political instability), and the number of small scale terrorist attacks increased. Additionally, new kinds of threats emerged, outside of the conventional suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. For example, Ms. Matty cited the Underwear Bomber’s unconventional methods as well as an instance where bomb-making materials where shipped via parcel service from the Middle East to Australia. While threats like these, thankfully, are many times stopped, they speak to the adaptation of terrorist groups in finding novel ways to carry out their work. Other tools, such as the internet, have become avenues for new kinds of terrorism, as well as continue to aid terrorists in recruitment and propaganda. Additionally, while the numbers in terrorist groups have decreased, there exists still a strong presence of veteran fighters, whose actions account for much of the loss of human life and property. Fighters such as these are still spreading to Europe in areas like the UK, Germany, and France, where refugee crises and the influx of Middle Easterners create unique and complicated dynamics in domestic politics and local affairs. Terrorists also have been identified in Central Asia and South America; the NCTC therefore expects terrorism to pop up anywhere around the globe.

Today, the NCTC’s efforts of info gathering and sharing focus counterterrorism on HVE, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah. World events related to Iran, Syria, and the Middle East in general continue to be monitored and addressed. NCTC also focuses on decreasing instances of HVE. The group notes that terrorism is increasingly attractive to teens in the west, many of whom desire attention, fulfilment, meaning, and camaraderie. The NCTC, along with addressing intelligence gaps and sharing knowledge with government agencies and politicians, seeks also to increase community awareness outside of government, by empowering community efforts to both identify extremists and possible extremists, but also to prevent HVE, especially among teens. According to Ms. Matty, there is a clear role of the American public in counterterrorism efforts: to develop societal resilience along with identifying and preventing terrorism at home.

The presentation was very informative, not only on the basis of providing a survey of recent counterterrorism efforts, but also in helping to contextualize the role of US intelligence and counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East, especially given recent events concerning the coming end of the Syrian Civil War, Iran’s partnership with Syria, and what the near future may look like from a counterterrorism viewpoint. Ms. Matty’s presentation helped me to understand that while coalition efforts have been successful in stemming terrorism from these regions, there is still a great need for western and eastern nations to coordinate intelligence gathering and counterterrorism efforts that include, but are not limited to, putting boots on the ground. Certainly, current regional issues deserve a more in-depth analysis in order to understand the role that counterterrorism will play in the coming years. I very much appreciate the efforts of the UVU National Security Studies program to bring such a high-level official to our campus.

Michael Hinatsu, Political Science Major Student, Utah Valley University 




Jesse-Sandstrom-Ms Bridget Matty about counterism terrorism


Kyle-Williams-Countering Terrorism


Cody Conklin-NCTC Presentation at Utah Valley University


Megan Davis-National Counterterrorism Center Presentation at UVU By Ms. Matty


Hailee Hodgson-Learning from Bridget Matty About National Counterterrorism Center Activities


UIMF will contribute to the UN DPI Conference in Utah in 2019

Meeting about preparations for the UN DPI/NGO conference in 2019

On August 28, 2018, Andrew Jensen and I participated at the meeting about the results of the Utah delegation visit to the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN DPI/NGO) Conference during August 21-24, 2018. It was a meeting of students and faculty engaged in the UVUN initiative which means a partnership between UVU and the UN, established in November 2017.  Dr. Baldomero Lago, head of the UVU office of Global Engagement informed us that Mayor of Salt Lake City, Jackie Biskupski announced last week at the UN that Salt Lake City will host the 68th UN DPI/NGO Conference in August 2019.  (See: Mayor Biskupski encouraged the UN to make Sustainability Goal 11 the focus of the 2019 Conference. UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 lays out a series of targets for cities to reach by 2030, including access to safe and affordable housing, transportation, and green and public spaces. Goal 11 also encourages cities to adopt and implement plans to reduce the environmental impact of cities, particularly air quality.

The effort to bring the UN DPI/NGO Conference to Utah began with the UVU Office for Global Engagement. As the first step, Dr. Lago was able to secure for UVU in November 2017 affiliate membership status with the UN DPI with an important task to educate the UVU and larger community on the 17 UN SDGs. Then, Dr. Lago approached Mayor Biskupski about the possibility of hosting the Conference. “Given Salt Lake City’s mission of building a sustainable and resilient city,” as press-release of the Salt Lake City Mayor make reference on Dr. Lago, “it made perfect sense to approach the City to help make this dream a reality.” The 2019 Conference is expected to take place in late August with events hosted at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Downtown Salt Lake City.

(L to R): Andrew Jensen, Samuel Elzinga and Professor Ryan Vogel during the meeting

Dr. Lago informed all of us about several steps in preparations for the next year UN conference: in October 27, this year several high-level representatives of the UN DPI will come to UVU to hold a training seminar for NGOs from the state of Utah. This will be an exciting event for us, members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU, which focuses on the advocacy and implementation of mountain targets in the State of Utah and globally.

Participants of the meeting informed about their activities to be contributed to the agenda of the UVUN initiative during entire year as preparations for the UN Conference. For example, representatives of the UVU Women’s Success Center focused on the celebration of the International Women’s Day on March 8th, 2019, while we, as UIMF members will host annual International Mountain Day commemoration at UVU on December 11, 2018.

One of the important priorities for our coalition would be to work with Dr. Lago to ensure that the agenda of the UN conference will include activities to promote the sustainable mountain development topics and implementation of mountain targets, as we preliminary discussed those issues in October 2017 with Dr. Andrew Taber, Chair of the Mountain Partnership Steering Committee at that time and with a newly elected Chair of the MP Steering Committee, Mr. Grammenos Mastrojeni during recent visit to the High Level Political Forum on sustainable development of ECOSOC on July 16, 2018.

We were grateful to Dr. Lago and his staff for support to UIMF activities during our visits to the UN and this meeting was another example of student engagement from his office in preparations to the unique UN conference which will be hosted for the first time in the wstern part of the United States.

Samuel Elzinga, President, Foreign Affairs Club at UVU      




UIMF members inform Dr. Lago about achievements at the HLPF 2018

Dr. Lago watches a video of UVU students making an oral statement at the UN

Members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU) and myself had the opportunity to report our achievements during the visit to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development on July 15-19, 2018 to Dr. Baldomero Lago. Dr. Lago is the Chief International Officer and an official representative to the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN DPI) at UVU. Dr. Lago provided essential assistance to our delegation to achieve our goals at the UN  in particular with arranging meetings with Permanent Representatives to the United Nations of Uzbekistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana and Uganda. As the Chief International Officer, he has a lot of experience navigating and furthering the mission of UVU within the UN. As such, it was our duty to report about the achievements of UVU delegation within the UN at the 2018 High-Level Political Forum.        

Dr. Lago, Andrew Jensen, Samuel Elzinga and Amy Barnett after the meeting

Within our meeting with Dr. Lago, we began by showing him the footage of our delegations presentation to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN (footage can be found at: We explained to him, that it happened thanks to the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (RANS), which as a non-governmental organization in general consultative status with ECOCOS, was allowed to make an oral statement within three minutes. Dr. Butler as the main focal point of RANS to the UN was not able to go to the UN and asked us, students to make an oral statement on his behalf. This was also a demonstration of a true student engaged learning in practice. Therefore, it was interesting to hear how the President of the session, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, Ambassador Jerry Matthews Matjila, invited three of us to speak, as representatives of RANS, instead of UVU. We explained also that at the end of our presentation, the President of the session thanked us for delivering our presentation in English and in the allotted time. Dr. Lago watched the video and then commentated that he was very impressed with our achievements and with our presentation.

Afterwards I was allowed time to give Dr. Lago a brief reflection on our events from my perspective. I told him that overall, I felt that the experience was a positive one and that the opportunity to give an oral presentation allowed for many contacts with a wide range of different people and organizations within the UN. I explained that as President of the Model United Nations club at UVU, my peers and I had competed at the UN Conference in San Francisco and were awarded a certificate for our excellent performance. I explained that this experience was valuable because it gave me an inside view into the nuances and policies within the UN. I expressed that this was valuable experience and that the Model United Nations club and the UIMF would benefit from further interaction and partnership.

After this I explained that a valuable resource that we attained while at the UN was a new partnership with the Global University System (the article which can be found at: As explained in the aforementioned article, the Global University System is an organization that works with various universities with the intent to promote global best practice educational programs. The opportunity to communicate with the Global University System came from the opportunity to submit a joint cross-cutting statement to all nations that were giving a Voluntary National Review (more information which can be found at: I explained that this meeting was valuable and that I looked forward to Dr. Lago’s further communication with the Global University System. At the end of this portion of the meeting we had the opportunity to further discuss with Dr. Lago, the opportunities and implications of the United Nations DPI conference that is slated to occur next year. Though the details are still in the works, UVU will assuredly be actively involved with future UN activities.

Sam Elzinga, my colleague reported about his experiences of managing protocol for the delegation. We had meetings with Permanent Representatives of several nations accredited to the UN, like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and others and it happened thanks to the assistance from the office of Dr. Lago and his assistant Amy Barnett.

Andrew Jensen, President, Model UN club at UVU