Two years ago Claire Campbell was a professor working in the Department of History at Dalhousie University. That is, until Dal’s College of Sustainability opened in September of 2009. “I always knew I wanted to do something about the environment,” says Campbell, now splitting her time between the history department and the new college to teach Sustainability 1000: An Introduction to Environment, Sustainability and Society. “But I figured I could never go into environmental studies, because I didn’t like science that much and I didn’t want to be a biologist.”
That’s the great part about the College of Sustainability at Dal. People from all academic backgrounds have the chance to study the environment, society and sustainability through a multitude of disciplines, in an attempt to get a holistic view of environmental problems, their origins, and possible solutions to climate change and other ecological issues.
The college is the first of its kind in Canada and now in its second year and thriving. Today the college serves almost 350 first-year students, employs close to 15 full time professors, and spans 11 faculties and hundreds of disciplines. All courses under the sustainability umbrella are based on team teaching, in that multiple faculty members participate in the teaching process.
Campbell shares her first-year sustainability classroom with Steven Mannell, architect and director of the college. Part-timers and guests include biologist Nick Hill, plant scientist Deborah Buzzard and marine biologist Hal Whitehead. Students are taught by professors on topics that range from the more science-based, such as the ecology of salt marshes, to more arts-based, discussions on literature. The program requires students to take a major, minor or honours in another discipline.
“I was in arts initially, and you come into this sort of program, and it’s just not what university is like in any other way,” explains Paul Langford, an upper-year sustainability and management student. “There are three different profs at the front of the classroom. It’s fantastic.”
One of Campbell’s objectives is extending her students’ passion for the environment into their future. “It has to be: do what you’re good at, but do it as a citizen of the world. Do it as someone who is ultimately realizing your particular gifts and orienting them toward helping the earth and the earth’s integrity.”
The students couldn’t agree more. “One of the things that I have taken away from the program is that a lot of environmental problems, in my opinion, are driven by big business,” explains Langford. “And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to get into business, because that’s where I wanted to see a change.”