Celebrating International Mountain Day 2016 Through Experiential Learning

The Utah International Mountain Forum, A Coalition of Student Clubs at UVU Celebrated the 6th International Mountain Day  by Hosting the Following Events During the Fall Semester 2016

  1. “Building Cultural Bridges Between Mountainous Georgia and Utah,” Sept 15, 2016

2. “Rotary International Learning Cultures to Build Ties with Mountain Nations,” Nov 16, 2016

3. “Presentation of the Documentary “Daughter of Kalash” at University of Utah,” Nov 29, 2016

4. The Main Event “Celebrating International Mountain Day 2016 Through Experiential Learning,” Dec 2, 2016


The Main Event








Dr. Kabamba’s PowerPoint

Certificate to Dr. Kabamba


Mehak Asad’s Documentary Film



IMD Celebration Photos


Task List IMD 2016


Mountain Partnership Photo Gallery


Celebrating International Mountain Day 2016
Through Experiential Learning


When I first joined the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU), my first event that I was directly involved in the planning and preparations was the International Mountain Day (IMD) celebration of 2014. Now, as I prepare to graduate UVU, one of the last events I have helped organize is IMD 2016. It seems fitting, and somewhat natural to finish where I started—able to look back and see much I, and my team, have developed professionally.

We, at UVU, have celebrated IMD every year since 2010 as a special forum to promote the sustainable mountain development agenda of the United Nations. In addition to gaining professional skills, experiences on an international level, we regular meet with many dignitaries from Utah, North America, and overseas who are invited as keynote presenters. We do this in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution, “International Year of Mountains, 2002,” which encourages the international community to come together on 11 December under the name United Nations International Mountain Day (IMD). Events are planned at all levels to highlight the importance of the SMD agenda.

The IMD 2016 is a continued example of the experiential, or problem-based learning (PBL) initiative at UVU, where students acquire new knowledge and professional skills through practical activities with a focus on the promotion of the SMD agenda. PBL requires students to work on specific, practical issues through group efforts, while faculty serve as advisors allowing students to do the maximum amount of tasks on their own, and only interfere if it is necessary. The UIMF, since its creation in 2011 as a coalition of student clubs, has fit well in implementing the PBL approach.

Using PBL as our guide, work on IMD 2016 began around the middle of July when my colleagues and I, most notably Deann Torsak, President of Sustainable Mountain Development Club at UVU, had put together some ideas of who and what we would like plan for this event. Eventually, we decided to follow-up on a contact made while preparing for the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference (WOMC) at UVU which took place October 7-9, 2015. One particular contact was a young woman named Mehak Asad, a video-producer from Pakistan, who had just recently earned her Master’s degree from Beaconhouse National University, Lahore. She had expressed an interest in presenting at our conference, but could not find the funds to make it out to Utah. At the time, we had to part ways, but we expressed our interest in trying to bring her out to UVU in the future.

Deann reached out to her, to see if she was still interested in presenting at UVU as part of the 2016 IMD celebration. As it turned out, she was, and had recently completed work on the documentary film “Daughter of Kalash,” a story about the Kalash tribe, which lives in the remote mountain areas of northern Pakistan. It was a perfect match to the United Nations selected main theme for the IMD 2016: “Mountain cultures: celebrating diversity and strengthening identity.” Arrangements were made to have her to Skype in as a key note presenter. This was a fairly similar approach to another UIMF-PBL initiative – to host International Women’s Day celebration of 2016 at UVU, where we invited Dr. Alex Azmi of UCLA to screen his documentary film “To climb a gold mountain” about Chinese women during the Chinese exclusion act in the nineteenth century. We screened the film as a follow up to the WOMC, where Dr. Azmi supported UVU students and screened his documentary in Salt Lake City in August 2015 as a major feature for the students fundraising campaign for the conference. This approach of experiential learning has proven true for UIMF members over the last five years, with increasing success with more, and better advertising.

During our regular weekly meeting with UIMF advisor Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, we discussed the plans for upcoming IMD. Then the idea came up of actually flying Mehak out to Utah. Deann later asked Mehak if she would be interested in flying to the United States to make the presentation of her film. The response we received was, “There is no way I could say no to an opportunity like this.” With Mehak on board, the next task was finding the funds to cover her flight. Due to the fact that it was the summer semester, we sent out several “feeler” emails to gauge interest from several friends of the UIMF on campus and among the local community.

Within a week, we had secured the cost of the travel from, Dr. Michelle Taylor, UVU Vice President of Student Affairs, who also contributed funds to the WOMC in 2015. She was excited to hear of the new event happening, and again through student initiative. Later, Deann and I met with Andre Jones, a member of the organizing committee of the WOMC, and his friend Nick Varney, who was enrolled in a class of the UIMF advisor, Dr. Abdrisaev and was aware of the UIMF activities. Both of them are currently a part of UVU Student Government and they offered assistance in a number of ways, including: recruiting help, advertising to students, and offering tables at UVU sponsored events.

With the finances arranged and UIMF members ready to help out, the complex task of securing Mehak a travel visa from the United States Department of State became a daunting and mountainous task. The issues facing us originated from the challenging situation in Pakistan regarding terrorism. We assumed a result to this was possible strict rules, and special attention and scrutiny of our candidate from the Consular officers at the US Embassy in Pakistan. We had an experience during the WOMC in 2015 when several women from overseas, whom we invited to the conference, were not able to get visas for reasons similar to this. Fortunately, UIMF members, and the Foreign Affairs club in particular, had already accumulated enough professional experiences in handling visa issues and protocol. Additionally, in the event that we still had questions, we were able to contact our colleague, Parker Nielsen who had handled protocol and visa issues during the WOMC. At the time, he was working and saving money for enrollment in classes for the spring semester of 2017 as a financial aid counselor at UVU, and was not able to help as much as he would have liked. UIMF members were able to strengthen their previous experiences, in logistics/protocol, and working with bureaucracies on many levels.

To begin the visa process, we prepared a letter of invitation for Mehak, which we would send through Dr. Baldomero Lago, the new director of the UVU office of International Affairs and Diplomacy, who is officially responsible for this type of activity and correspondence at UVU. Again, due to the summer semester, and the need for us to build relationships with a new official at UVU, it took Dr. Baldomero several days to look at our letter. Once we had the invitation letter in hand, we learned of the necessity to tackle the issue from a “two-pronged” approach. First, we needed to send the letter to Pakistan, both by e-mail and “snail” mail while Mehak began the process of applying for a visa on her end. After some research, and consultations with our advisors regarding which type of visa to apply for, Mehak was granted an interview at the U.S. Consulate in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Due to the distance, it wasn’t until the 24th of September that our team was informed that her visa had been approved. The celebration in our office didn’t last long, as the moment for UIMF leadership to begin work on the specific details of her trip, including the booking of the travel, and to set up the event, began immediately. As part of the tradition, UIMF members also make personal contributions to each event in addition to their time and efforts. To illustrate this, Deann Torsak suggested that she would host our guest from Pakistan at her home, just as she had done during the WOMC when she accommodated another woman from Pakistan that built close ties and a lasting friendship. Her big family, consisting of four children in addition to her husband, were thrilled to get together with guests from a different continent, who represented the Muslim culture.

We then started to gather our members and involved more than 20 students who were interested to volunteering for the event in December and contributed their time and efforts in order to create digital media advertisements, an event poster, and began working on the rest of the activities for the event. To that end, we reached out to Dr. Patience Kabamba, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UVU. He had recently conducted research and put together a presentation of the ethnographic field work in the mountain areas of Congo. His presentation was titled “Mountains are not only geography, but also culture!” This was a perfect fit to the IMD theme for 2016. Dr. Kabamba also involved Jacques Baraketse and Sam Kabwika, two of his UVU students from Congo as his co-presenters.

The majority of October was dedicated to other tasks with a focus on the promotion of the SMD agenda. Another group of UIMF members in parallel hosted a second event contributing to the IMD 2016 in a similar PBL-model (see more about the Round Table with Rotary International members in the State of Utah: http://utahimf.org/rotary-international-learning-cultures-to-build-ties-with-mountain-nations/ ). However, once November came around, we began to recruit more student volunteers to assist in the event and in particular those enrolled in classes of the Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, advisor for the UIMF. They volunteered for a variety of tasks relating to protocol, logistics, media contacts, and others. Many of them needed to be accomplished weeks before hand, while several others didn’t need to be completed until the day of. While we usually have weekly gatherings of the UIMF members to coordinate preparation activities, because of the fact that majority of our students are non-traditional who combine their classes with jobs, we needed to stay in contact with each other by email. Nevertheless, coordinating the massive amount of support we received from fellow students became a colossal task—especially as the Thanksgiving break threw everything off by a week.

Things began with a little bit of a hiccup, as I was invited to a promotion interview with my employer which was scheduled during the time of the event. I asked Christian Jensen, the President of the Foreign Affairs club, to stand in for the event, and he did a wonderful job together with his deputy, Muhnbat “Mugi” Batmunkh. He began by reading a statement of greetings from the F.A.O. UN to the UIMF in recognition of its celebration of IMD 2016. Additionally, Christian informed the audience about the major successes and contribution from the UIMF to the promotion of the sustainable development agenda of the United Nations covering the entire year of 2016. He also handed out certificates of appreciation and participation in IMD 2016 from the FAO-UN to both the presenters and student volunteers of the event. Warren Cass, a member of the UIMF, was there to video document the events as they happened, as Gary Crofts, a student of Dr. Abdrisaev’s, took photographs of the event for the website. Kiersten Dumas, a member of the Sustainable Mountain Club, was there to lend assistance where needed, and Deann Torsak, President of the Sustainable Mountain Club, escorted Ms. Asad to campus for her presentation. The event gathered a crowd of about forty-five students in the auditorium of UVU’s new Classroom Building. Amy Barnett, assistant to Dr. Baldomero and longtime friend of the UIMF was very pleased both at the level of attendance and involvement of the students. Problem based learning has, once again, served the UIMF well in both helping students, and the local community to be aware off and contribute to the sustainable development of the mountain communities worldwide.

While it goes without saying, the IMD 2016 event could not have happened in all of its success without the help and dedication of many people throughout UVU and the state of Utah. Much like the theme of IMD 2016, Utah and the surrounding communities have a strong tradition of coming together to accomplish goals and tasks for the betterment of everyone. While this may be the last International Mountain Day I help plan and organize as the president of the UIMF, it is my hope to be continually involved well past my time at UVU. There is a sense or professionalism that accompanies this organization that many students do not experience until well in to graduate school. All of which could not have been realized without the help of great people with a sense of community in the Rocky Mountain region, and the mountainous regions across the planet as a whole.

Tony Medina, President, Utah International Mountain Forum.

International Mountain Day Builds Friendship between Families in Utah and Pakistan




Stella Parwin Przybyla, and Megan Raines: UVU Students Build Cultural Bridges with Kalash People

Spencer Monson: 6th Annual Celebration of the International             Mountain Day at UVU

Christine Behle: Connecting Mountain Cultures during the 2016 International Mountain Day Commemoration

Ellen Dekker: My Analysis of the International Mountain Day

Tenika Ray: My First International Mountain Day

Tito A Momen: International Mountain Day 2016 Promotes Mountain Cultures

Rachel Critchfield: Taking Part at the International Mountain Day at UVU

Brady Dow: International Mountain Day at Utah Valley University

Kiersten Dumas: Learning About Mountain Cultures during IMD 2016

Daniela Monkada: Utah Valley University Students Host Guest From Pakistan

Katherine Snow: Learning Culture of the Mountain People of Congo