#GreenHamOnt: Sustainability 101 - Bringing sustainability to McMaster University.

Image by Tom Flemming | flickr.com

Image by Tom Flemming | flickr.com

With over 3,400 acres of parkland, 137 kilometres of hiking trails, and more than 120 waterfalls, Hamilton has a diverse and unique natural environment.  Hamilton is becoming increasingly known for its fascinating environmental features; however, it wasn't long ago that the city was considered the ‘industrial armpit of Canada’. As the Senior Manager of Academic Sustainability Programs at McMaster University, Kate directs the development and operation of various aspects of academic sustainability, including providing the overall direction for the Sustainable Future Program, Sustainability Internship Program, GUCEL Program, and Minor in Sustainability.

As McMaster continues to advance sustainability on campus and within the community, this year marks new developments in bringing sustainability into the classroom through a focus on interdisciplinary, student-led, community-based and experiential education. These developments have been facilitated in a number of different ways and through a wide variety of programs.

One such initiative is the Sustainable Future Program. There are currently three courses within this academic program. Within these courses, students learn about sustainability through lectures and course material while having the opportunity to complete an experiential learning project where they work with members of the campus and broader community to develop and implement a real-world sustainability initiative.

In September 2013, McMaster offered its newest course within the Sustainability Future Program, Sustain 3A03 – Societal Tools for Systemic Sustainable Change. Students from 5 faculties and Arts & Science in levels three and above engaged in interdisciplinary, community-based, student-led, and experiential education related to sustainability.

Led by Dr. Michael Mikulak, with support from Teaching Assistants Brandon Barliak (Engineering) and Connie Chung (Arts & Science), students had the opportunity to examine the concept of sustainability by focusing on specific case studies and examples in relation to larger questions of power, knowledge, and human and non-human agency. Lectures, tutorials and assignments were focused on developing a truly interdisciplinary conversation that considers the different techniques and tools society has at its disposal for addressing the environmental crisis.

To compliment their theoretical knowledge of sustainability, students undertook an experiential learning project. During the first week of classes, 36 students formed 12 project groups based on their individual interests in sustainability. Students had the opportunity to work with community members to provide them with additional support and guidance related to their chosen project. To offer this support, 9 individuals formally took on the role of Community Project Champion by offering their time, resources, and their expert knowledge to assist students in achieving their project goals. Additionally, countless member of the community participated in events and workshops, provided support, and offered mentorship.

The tremendous amount of work, and high degree of collaboration is illustrated within the Sustain 3A03 Course Report, which has written by the students themselves.

Through reading the report, you will notice that the breadth of student interests related to sustainability are far reaching. Projects extend from the creation of a working model of a 3D Un-printer, to the development of a Hamilton-based social impact bond, and to the establishment of a program to aid in the preservation of Hamilton’s cultural heritage buildings.

I hope you take a look at the Course Report and enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed my experience in working with the individuals who have created it.