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Anchor course: Fundamentals of Sustainable Development (FANR 1500 - Puneet Dwivedi)

I took the Fundamentals of Sustainable Development (FANR 1500) in Fall of 2020 with Professor Puneet Dwivedi. In this class we covered the basics of the three spheres of sustainability. We investigated topics such as environmental tragedies, social inequalities, sustainable development, systems, resiliency, and much more, which provided a great basis of understanding for the remainder of the Certificate requirements.


In this class I pursued my interests in storytelling and Human Geography through our research project. Mine looked at the effect of religiosity and political affiliations on annual environmental budgets in the United States. My hope was to determine whether the fate of the environment could be determined by what I apparently deemed as “subjective beliefs”. In retrospect, this paper seems blatantly problematic and biased, but hey, I was nineteen. I ultimately found that there wasn’t an overwhelming correlation between the variables, but I believe my own confirmation bias led to the conclusion that states with higher religious and Republican populations allocated less money to environmental spending.


Though I hadn’t quite figured out how to appropriately broach certain subjects, FANR 1500 served as a bit of a turning point for me where I began to shift my focus from only the environmental sphere to also developing a great interest in people and their relationships with the environment and sustainability. Now several years later, I look back and realize that I still gripped onto the privileged framework that: EVERYONE MUST PARTICIPATE IN SUSTAINABLE EFFORTS EQUALLY (in all caps and bolded to really emphasize how aggressively I felt this sentiment). It is awesome to know that I am no longer so extreme in this way. Through my Certificate learning, involvement with local organizations like Envision Athens, and student clubs like Fair Fashion, I have come to realize that the idea that everyone can make equal contributions and be on the same page regarding sustainability is, well, ridiculous. While I apparently expected the entire global population to be prancing about laden in solar panels and gleefully picking up litter as they went, that just isn’t and cannot be the reality. Everyone’s sustainability story differs.

Ecological course: Ecological Basis of  Environmental Issues (ECOL 1000 - Scott Conelly)

I took Ecology 1000 and the accompanying lab in Spring of 2020. This course was one of the highlights of my freshman year. I felt very cool for having an actual, very valid reason for stepping into the Science Learning Center several times a week (I was used to sticking to the more Arts/Communications buildings around campus). 


At this point in my Sustainability journey, I was certainly more focused on the environmental sphere. I wanted to know all about physical geography and how human behavior influenced nature and vice versa. I also loved interacting with concepts that I would have otherwise never have learned about, like the Gastric Brooding Frog for example, these frogs birth their young orally through burps, odd but apparently useful when studying issues associated with human digestion. 


While the class section looked deeply into knowledge related to climate change and natural processes, the lab allowed us to get our hands dirty, and very dirty at that. We were able to go out into forested areas to study stream composition to gauge water quality, wading into the water with these long boot-pant garments and nets in tow. 


For one of our lab projects, we were to make a semester-long lifestyle change that would positively impact the environment. I chose to cut out meat from my diet several days a week and measure how much water I saved in doing so. The project was certainly eye-opening and left an impression on my dietary choices moving forward.

Now being interested in making sustainability more accessible, I wonder how this project may have been presented differently. Sharing with students how different populations are influenced differently by sustainability and how not everyone could approach the Lifestyle Change project in the same way. After having been involved with the Geography department for a while, particularly the more human centric side of things, my mindset has certainly shifted. Capitalism as we see it today in the United States is indeed not great at all. I would have liked to see what this meant earlier on and discussed how individual changes, while certainly beneficial in some ways, are not necessarily as influential as attempting to alter legislation and encourage corporations to do better with their practices. 

Economic course: DMAN 3100 (Disasters and Society - Michelle Ritchie)

The economic sphere… a slightly daunting area considering my visceral fear of both math and graphing. While interested in economics in a broad sense, finding a course that would not result in me weeping over my own mathematic incompetence was a bit of a feat. My Certificate learning has centered mainly around people and learning how to make sustainability accessible to everyone, so I tackled this myself in finding a doable way to learn about economics in relation to sustainability.


After much deliberation and research, I discovered Michelle Ritchie’s class - Disasters and Society (DMAN 3100), a class that studies how people can both plan for and handle natural/human-made disasters when they happen. A large portion of the class covered how disasters influence different population’s unevenly, a wildly relevant topic as we continue to witness more and more disaster events across the globe. 


The class went beyond lectures and textbook readings as we practiced tabletop exercises to teach us about how to handle climate disasters and other emergency situations under pressure. We also had the opportunity to try on PPE and learn from some great guest lecturers. In this class I realized a whole new interest of mine. We learned all about the importance of effective communication in disasters, ensuring that everyone has access to the correct information, which is something that I hope to learn more about in the future.


Social course: Resources, Society, and the Environment (GEOG 1125 - online course)

Over the summer of 2020 I took GEOG 1125, also known as Resources, Society, and the Environment to satisfy the social sphere of the certificate. The class was completely online, and the scope was rather broad, which was nice as I had already learned about some pretty specific issues within sustainability. GEOG 1125 let me take a step back and see how all these smaller pieces of the puzzle came together to make something larger, using specific examples as supplemental examples of this. This made the class feel very accessible.


While my memory of the course is hazy thanks to the black hole that was the major lockdown period of COVID, I remember looking at several case studies and specifically learning about overfishing in terms of the dwindling cod populations in New England and Newfoundland. We spent time looking at the case and understanding what its broader complications were, revealing issues that I hadn’t known to exist previously. 


It was great to gain more of a historical understanding, seeing how case studies aided our comprehension of vaguer topics. Though we did not have much flexibility due to the online and summer format of the class, I enjoyed sharing my opinions and findings with the class via discussion posts!


Seminar: Sustainability Seminar (SUST 4200 - Tyra Byers)

I really enjoyed the seminar classes! While I was able to learn more technical and field-specific knowledge in the sphere courses, the seminar had a great focus on professional development. This was important for me as I started stepping into internship positions at the Office of Sustainability. 


In the seminar I learned a lot of helpful communication skills. I specifically remember liking an activity where we considered the different perspectives of stakeholders handling the growing wolf population at Yellowstone National Park. The class discussed whether the wolves should be hunted in some capacity in the interest of safety, recreation, and balance within the food web. We used external resources and testimonies from locals to guide our conversation. While at first it seemed like a no-brainer to me (why kill these animals who have no control over their own nature) the profound complexity of the issue was soon revealed. It became clear that people had very different motives, many of those in favor of hunting wolves had personal experience protecting their children or loved ones from near wolf attacks. I saw how ignorant my initial take on the matter was, not considering the problem holistically.


I found that this in-class conversation translated into my broader life and mentality in the workplace. While I may initially think that my ideas are best, I have come to realize that collaborating with others and finding solutions through the thoughts of various minds yields the most sustainable results. Thinking about the implications of a decision can be hard when you do not have many people taking a seat at the table, but when you do, the dialogue you share becomes much more well-rounded. 


The seminar was also my first introduction to a Sustainability Certificate-only class. I got to connect with students from so many different majors and backgrounds, learning about their unique sustainability journeys. Talking with classmates and getting to hear from alumni panels showed me how diverse the field of sustainability can be.

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