Tarah Wright, professor

A day in the life

Tarah Wright, professor

Tarah Wright_Environmental Science

Students come with so many interesting ideas about the world and with a very deep pool of energy. I really feed off their enthusiasm. It’s a privilege to have younger people challenge my thinking. And it’s a joy to watch them grow intellectually.

Looking at the roots of environmental problems

Tarah Wright, professor in the Faculty of Science, teaches classes in the Environmental Sciences program. But don’t think for a minute that’s the beginning and end of her research interests.

Dr. Wright is also cross-appointed in International Development Studies (IDS), the School of Planning, the School for Resource and Environmental Studies, and the College of Sustainability. Such a range of appointments and interests goes hand in hand with her view that “We’ve fragmented and sectoralized ourselves and our thinking on the environment,” and that it’s important to adopt a more holistic way of looking at solving environmental problems.

In her classes, Dr. Wright encourages her students to do that, too. “In the Environmental Decision Making class, we look into the roots of environmental problems past and present, considering how religion, philosophy, economics, culture, and human nature, as well as science, have contributed to them,” she says. “And we look at creating solutions—we really want to empower students to find solutions.”

In fact, Dr. Wright emphasizes “co-developing solutions” with her students. “That’s the most fun part of being an Environmental Science prof,” she says. “The program attracts very driven students, who often come with really interesting ideas I would never have thought of. Engaging with them challenges me to live and think differently.”

Currently, Dr. Wright is heading a pan-Canadian study “looking at university leaders’ understandings of sustainability and the role universities can play in building a sustainable future. We’re interviewing about 260 people from four cohorts: university presidents, facilities management directors, leaders of student unions, and leaders of faculty associations.”

“We’re in the middle of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development,” Dr. Wright continues. “Canada has signed on and people say they’re dedicated to it, but no one really knows how universities are addressing this issue. So these interviews will give us a baseline of where university leaders stand.”

She adds with a smile there’s a “more subversive” side to the research. “There’s this idea that if you engage people in discussions about sustainability, they’ll be vectors of change. Many of the people we’re talking with have never thought about these issues before. So we’re hoping that opening people up to engaging with sustainability and the role universities can play will stimulate more discussion.”

And, of course, more holistic solutions.