Sept. 24, 2019

Can hands-on learning kick-start your students’ future careers?

Certificate in Sustainability Studies co-founder creates experiential learning opportunities from the local to the global
Sarah Skett
Sarah Skett is an advocate for experiential learning from the local to the global. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

“I love UCalgary. What I appreciate is that we are an institution that is youthful, energetic and striving to make an impact. We don’t sit back waiting for opportunities we make them.”

Those are the words of Sarah Skett, research associate in UCalgary’s Sustainability Studies Program.  Finding and creating experiential learning and research opportunities is exactly what Skett does. Not many know, but she was responsible for co-developing UCalgary’s Certificate in Sustainability Studies program, which saw its second cohort of students graduate in spring 2019.

“Right now, our priority is to scale the Sustainability Studies program,” says Skett. “We have a huge demand for the certificate from students, as well as an interest for more courses that engage sustainability challenges and help us find actionable solutions.  We also want to continue to work with faculties across campus to embed sustainability throughout their curriculum and research.

"We all have an impact with our consumption and behaviours, and with that comes the responsibility to understand and take action. And we learn by engaging in these challenges through real-world applications.”

One key component of the Certificate in Sustainability Studies is the experiential research opportunities provided to students. Skett has been liaising with The City of Calgary to give students the opportunity to conduct research on food systems that will be used to develop a food charter in Calgary. Once complete, the food charter will work to ensure all Calgarians have access to healthy and affordable food.

In addition, students are also working with The City to develop a risk assessment tool for urban agriculture. This tool will help ensure food production methods such as vertical, indoor and spin farming not only follow regulations, but are also sustainable and support those engaged in this work.

“I love providing students with the opportunity to do these kinds of experiential, hands-on projects because they can put them on their resume,” says Skett. “That’s the great thing about our program when students leave here, they need hands-on experience, not just to get a job, but to start a career they’re passionate about. They also need to understand the reality of workplaces and deadlines, and meeting stakeholders needs and expectations. I always tell my students to do their best because the research they are doing is actually informing policy decisions in Calgary.”

One of Skett’s next initiatives for the program is a field school in Uganda, which she will lead in May 2020. This interdisciplinary field school Ubuntu & The Sustainable Development Goals: Learning From Uganda will use the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guide to help students explore the daily challenges faced by Ugandans from the local to the global.

Students will be immersed in community projects that support sustainable community development through gender empowerment, increased food production, eco-tourism and youth engagement. There are also other courses and field schools under development.

“We’re excited for what our program will offer this coming year. There are so many great opportunities to engage students, faculty, staff and community,” Skett says.

The University of Calgary’s Institutional Sustainability Strategy provides a road map for continuous improvement in our pursuit of excellence and leadership in sustainability. We aim to become a Canadian post-secondary education leader in sustainability in our academic and engagement programs, administrative and operational practices and through supporting community and industry in their aims for leadership in sustainability. Learn more about UCalgary’s leadership in sustainability.