Sustainability in Academics: A Short Review

Hello, SustainSU! For our last community hour of the semester, we decided to talk about sustainability in academics. The conversation ended up focusing on the Certificate in Sustainability (for undergrads) and the Sustainability Scholars program (for grad students). After discussing the requirements and intents of each program, we decided that both are worthwhile to look into. The Certificate of Sustainability is an official way of recognizing a students’ initiative to both learn about (through eligible courses) and apply (through a capstone project) sustainability topics. Many of the courses are program requirements, so it’s fairly easy to integrate into your schedule. We also thought that given the big pushes for sustainability and climate action happening these days, this could (hopefully) be a valuable career asset in the years to come. Finally, if we learn about sustainability individually, that knowledge can then be shared and (again, hopefully) contribute to creating an overall more conscious community.
Sustainability Review 1For grad students, the Sustainability Scholars program seems to be quite different. In short, it involves doing applied research over the course of the summer with the City of Edmonton and other sustainability-oriented Edmonton organizations. You get paid for this one though, and some really interesting reports seem to result from it (which are all publicly available here).

To kick off this Sustainability academics and certification blog, a course review! We will discuss some of the classes that can be used to work towards a Certificate in Sustainability; provided by real students (us) with real reviews.

BIOL 208 (core course, reviewed by Keif-Er)
Sustainability Review 2
Overview: As the course title suggests BIOL 208 is a class which tackles a wide span of  introductory topics ranging from the sun’s importance in biodiversity to predator prey population calculations. Because of its inherent nature 😉 BIOL208 is a fantastic course for those interested in getting involved with environmental sustainability. BIOL208 is also a course taken by many thinking they will find an easy A+ on their transcript. Sadly the ones who spread this info were those lucky enough to have found themselves on the blessed side of the class’s curve which is out of this world. Finishing the class with a 92 was only sufficient to be granted an A-. Well you may be thinking “How on Earth can this be?” well that is because this class graces its students with very easy content. The easy content has everyone acing their tests, but it’s in the lab component where students are distinguished by whether or not they have luck. The lab section introduces itself with a very carefree environment; the tasks in each lab are quite easy, and students are not even required to wear lab coats. But the assignments are the worst as they are paired with vague guidelines and marking rubrics that threaten docked marks for even the simplest of formatting errors. But if your semester is packed with classes that emit depression this class will give you something nice and easy to look forward to, just stay in contact with your TAs to ensure you don’t lose random marks on your lab assignments.

TLDR:
Sustainability related?

  • With a name like Principles of Ecology? There’s no way this name would sustain very long if it had no relation to environmental sustainability. So, Yes!!!

Highlights:

  • Content is very easy to understand
  • Presented quite nicely
  • In a tough study schedule is a class that is very nice to study as a break from studying other classes
  • Labs are pretty simple and chill (don’t need lab coats)

Lowlights:

  • Curve is out of this world high, ~92 was an A-
  • Easy content may ensure high 90s on every test but gotta look out for lab assignments and their vague rubrics where people can easily lose marks for

PHYS 114 (elective course, reviewed by Keif-Er)
Sustainability Review 3
Overview: Unlike BIOL 208 this class’s spot on the list of potential elective courses is questionable. Coupled with a name like “Physics: The Big Picture” one would be under the impression that students would learn the role of physics in our everyday lives and beyond into the bigger picture of our world. However, PHYS 114 is a course that began identically to my high school Physics 20 course (Alberta School Curriculum). Starting off with drawing of free body diagrams, proceeding to kinematics and then eventually introducing forces. The content is very simple but somewhat heavy with math; if formula manipulation and algebra (granted it is simple algebra) is hard for you then this is not a course for you. With my experience of three different physics courses I feel like physics professors although brilliant, are not the greatest presenters of simple concepts, but alas this is perhaps due to personal preference. There are two midterms and a final, all which are multiple choice. The problem with these exams is that they are populated with so few questions that there is very little margin for error. For example, my first midterm had 12 multiple questions on it and the midterm was worth a massive 30%, this means that one question is worth 2.5% of my final mark. For better or for worse this class is also curved, typically the average is towards the lower end so it should not be as hard to ride the curve the right way. There is also an accompanying lab component with weekly partnered assignments, which sound more daunting than they are. These assignments are easily completed by following lab instructions and typing a simple lab report. My experience was that the physics TAs were a lot more forgiving than other labs (BIOL 208). Despite being curved this class should be amongst the easier classes to take in university.

TLDR:
Sustainability related?

  • Unless you consider learning about gravity to be sustainability related this course is not related to sustainability.

Highlights:

  • Content is very easy/similar to the high school level physics
  • Short exams
  • All multiple choice
  • Lab tasks are relatively easy complete
  • Labs only have lab assignments and the marking can be fairly lenient
  • Curved

Lowlights:

  • Short exams: answering one question wrong can result in a larger than normal impact on marks
  • Weekly lab assignments
  • Curved
  • Physics professors are not the easiest to understand

HGP 250: Natural Resources and Environmental Management (core course, reviewed by Alesi)
Sustainability Review 4

One of the environmental law readings that are quizzed on in this class (you can check it out here).

Overview: Unless you’re a Human Geography/Planning student or you’ve been told that this class is an easy Arts option (I see you r/uAlberta), this probably isn’t something you’ll take to fulfill a requirement. Although it sounds like an ALES-esque course where you learn about environmental assessments, it’s more like high school social studies except more relevant to sustainability and the issues of today. The course focuses on real-life environmental issues, the [capitalist] economic concepts that created them, and the different types of policies or economic schools of thought (like circular economy) that can be used to handle them. One case study we discussed was the acid rain crisis and how the US’ strategy to reduce emissions lead to the same results as ours but at the fraction of the price. We also talked about tort law and the US teens suing the government for lack of climate action, and how “Rebel Media is a toilet” (Borth, 2019 – he told us to quote him on this). The lectures are a mixture of slides, quality commentary (see above) and videos to reinforce the concepts (which aren’t directly tested on). There are some readings that are quizzed on, but the quizzes are no problem if you actually read them and they’re almost all news articles. There are no assignments, and the exams are v manageable.

TL;DR:
Is it sustainability-related? Definitely. The case studies are obviously environmental issues, but the solutions cover all three pillars of sustainability: how to resolve the environmental harm, how to reduce the social consequences, and how economically feasible each strategy is.

Highlights: Content is hella relevant, prof is an engaging and funny dude, videos reinforce concepts but aren’t tested on. Also, didn’t study for the first midterm and still did average [@Freya please insert finger guns emoji here].

Lowlights: Honestly none! I’m actually really enjoying this class.

Would you recommend it? As someone who has fallen asleep for at least 4 consecutive minutes in every class I’ve ever taken EXCEPT for three (including this one), I’ve gotta go with yes.

Capstone projects – Sustainability Scholars (reviewed by Grace)
The Sustainability Scholars program is a great way for graduate students to partner with Edmonton businesses and organizations to gain practical skills and experience in sustainability related research projects. We are at a crucial point in time, where many disciplines are interested in utilizing and promoting sustainable practices within their respective fields. As such, no matter which program you are in, there may be an opportunity to pursue your passion to make Edmonton more sustainable. For example, a recent graduate sociology student completed a project that examined the disconnect between Edmontonians’ perceptions about food waste and their actions.
Sustainability Review 5Even within the School of Public Health, several researchers are investigating the negative impacts on our health and wellbeing as a result of our changing environment. One area of research is examining the association between climate change and Indigenous health, in an effort to develop interventions that combat food scarcity and infectious disease concerns within the area. Although I am not specializing in environmental health, the Sustainability Scholars program may provide me with the unique opportunity to utilize my skills in epidemiology as I gain experience in sustainability related research.


Alesi Muhlbauer, Keif-Er Yong, Shuying Chen, and Grace George
RDP TL and Sustain SU Ambassadors
19/12/11

 

 

 

 

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