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Queen's University

Sustainability Office

Sustainability course links students with greater community

November 19, 2012

A unique fourth-year environmental studies course brings students in direct contact with their local community as they partner with the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve (FABR) and help the organization improve and promote the sustainable development of the region.

Students in ENSC 430, Honours Projects in Sustainability, work in small groups to address particular themes related to measuring the “state of the environment” in the Biosphere, which is a 2,700 km² area northeast of Kingston designated for conservation and education in sustainability by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2002.

“It’s completely different than any other course I’ve taken. You feel like you’re working towards something that is useful,” says Robyn Laing, MES’13, who took the course two years ago and is now the teaching assistant. “The professors give you the freedom to shape your own projects and through the field trips you get to see the impact your work is having on the area.”

Graham Whitelaw (Environmental Studies, Urban and Regional Planning) and Ryan Danby (Environmental Studies, Geography) teach ENSC 430. The students, working collectively with the Biosphere’s board of directors and staff, come up with a range of topics to research and report on during the course. This year’s students have chosen such areas as renewable energy, tourism, green business, demographics and waste management.

“It’s been a great partnership that will lead to more teaching and research connected with our local area,” says Dr. Whitelaw. “Environmental Studies tries to be as interdisciplinary as possible in its teaching and Dr. Danby and I are experimenting with that through this course. It’s been very interesting to bring our different backgrounds and idea sets – I am a social scientist and he’s a physical geographer – to this project.”

The course, now in its fourth year of a five-year partnership with the Biosphere, is run like a consulting company, creating real-world situations for students. Dr. Whitelaw and Dr. Danby act as the principals and the TAs as their staff. The students work for the consulting company and deliver a product, presenting their research and reports to the professors and the client – in this case the Biosphere.

Groups of students from the course will present highlights from their projects at a symposium Tuesday, November 20 at the University Club. The symposium will be a forum for discussion between students, faculty and community members. Everyone is welcome to attend. More information

More on the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000