Melissa Gallina is bringing experiential education to grad students at McMaster.

Photo from Melissa Gallina.

Photo from Melissa Gallina.

#23 - MELISSA GALLINA
HOMETOWN: NIAGARA FALLS, ONTARIO

AGE: 23

Melissa Gallina is an enterprising person, who is passionate about the environment and issues of sustainability. She also has an incredible knack for identifying gaps and developing solutions to fill them. Melissa started her post-secondary career at McMaster University where she took on an internship with their Office of Sustainability. Here, she implemented the Sustainable Printing Initiative, a project aimed at reducing the need for desktop printers used by students, faculty members, and staff throughout the university.

Upon entering her graduate studies at the same university, Melissa was struck by the lack of access to experiential learning for graduate students. As a result, Melissa developed and implemented the Graduate and Undergraduate Collaboration in Experiential Learning (GUCEL) program, filling a gap for graduate students seeking to mix sustainability issues and environmental science with experiential learning.

The focus of the GUCEL program is to “encourage graduate and undergraduate students to work together on an interdisciplinary project, resulting in the creation of novel intellectual communities.” The pilot program launched in summer 2013 and consisted of two project groups, with 3 to 4 students in each.  Funding a project of this nature can be tricky, but this did not stop Melissa from working hard to secure funding to get the project off the ground. This funding enabled Melissa to develop a website and communications campaign, taking her idea into reality.

Through the GUCEL program, students now have the opportunity to “engage in for-credit, interdisciplinary, multi-level experiential learning related to sustainability.” This has enabled students to apply academic knowledge in an experiential manner, using contemporary problems and issues. For example, GUCEL students have recently taken on is raising awareness and educating the McMaster community about waste. The project tackles issues about waste from several angles: identifying the journey and final resting place of waste; organized an event focusing on e-waste; collaborated with on-site waste collectors to get a better understanding of waste and the people who collect it; and lastly, analyzed the data collected, which will help them better understand the processes of waste. Applying theories learned in the classroom to current problems communities are facing at varying levels makes important connections between academia and the real world. Although the program is still relatively new, it has received a lot of attention and was featured on The Starfish website earlier this year.

While working on the GUCEL project, Melissa was also completing her Masters degree. Talk about commitment!

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Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 2014 Magazine
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