In the fall of 2016, I took the course SUST 401: Surveying Sustainability. This course was the introduction course to the sustainability program at UNH. The course covered several topics such as the different system spheres on Earth, energy, climate, food and agriculture, and sustaining municipalities. The different topics incorporated lectures, guest speakers and field trips to present new perspectives and see some sustainable solutions in real life.
Taking this course early on in my academic career was truly beneficial. One of the most fundamental aspects of sustainability is understanding the idea of the three pillars. The pillars, representing economics, society and the environment, is one of the approaches to looking to see if an idea or solution is sustainable. Prior to knowing this, my perspective was quite limited. I used to think that sustainability was all about doing what is best for the environment. While this is important, its only part of the puzzle. Reflecting back, what would a sustainable solution be if it wasn’t economically feasible or considered social equality in its benefits? It would be far from sustainable. Having the clear definition of the three pillars changed this thinking to begin to think about problems through different lenses and the intersection of disciplines.
The course incorporated projects though out the semester; these ranged from small in group projects and larger projects that took half of the semester. One of the in-class projects that was memorable was during the unit about municipal sustainability. The project focused on redevelopment in Portland, ME, with a focus on different stakeholders. This was conducted by role playing a town meeting. I volunteered to be one of the facilitators of the meeting; this proved to be quite a challenge for me. After spending weeks learning about facilitation and community engagement in another course, I thought I had all the skills to succeed in this role. My naïve freshmen self was wrong. I did not fail the assignment, but I felt unsatisfied with my contribution. From this experience, I learned quite a few lessons, one being that having the technical skills to do something is not the same as having experience in doing it. While I knew about the challenges of facilitation, I didn’t expect that I would freeze because of unforeseen challenges that I lacked the knowledge. I know now that experiential learning, even through blunders, can be one of the most powerful learning techniques for me.
Overall, this course set me up for a successful experience sustainability dual major experience. The interdisciplinary nature of learning about sustainable systems has given me the tools to approach each of the dual major electives in a different perspective and more open to seeing more parts. I was one of the first students in my graduating class to take this course; since then, each of the other students in my class has had a different experience of what the course has been. While the curriculum that I had may not be as refined as the curriculum that my peers have had, this unique position that I am in gives me perspectives that some of them have not had.