Inside the classroom


"It helps students think critically and conduct independent research—which, they find once they're out in the real world, is really helpful. They have a solutions toolbag to carry around with them."

Putting knowledge into action

One of the most popular classes with students in the Environmental Science program is the third-year Campus as a Living Laboratory class. For 11 years, Dr. Tarah Wright has taught this class, which is cross-listed with the Environment, Sustainability and Society (ESS) program. “We use the university as a model and identify environmental problems on campus,” Dr. Wright explains. “Then students work in groups to research those problems and create solutions, which they present to the university administration.”

“About 40% of those project proposals have had a life afterwards,” she says, meaning that the projects are actually implemented—like the one that resulted in the default setting of the photocopiers in the Killam Library being changed from single to double sided. “They’re usually the smaller ideas or initiatives, but students feel empowered when they can get results like that.”

“The purpose of the class is to teach students how to do research while teaching them about sustainability on campus,” Dr. Wright explains. “And it’s in a safe place—if the project doesn’t work out—if they ‘fail’—they won’t fail the class. It’s good preparation for those who will go on to master’s studies and write a thesis. But for others who won’t do a master’s, it will help them think critically and conduct independent research—which, most of them find, once they’re out there in the world, they’re finding really helpful. They have a solutions tool bag to carry with them—they know how to do surveys, for example, and various qualitative and quantitative analyses.”

Another popular is Environmental Problem Solving. The focus of the class can differ from term to term, depending on the interests of the instructor. In Fall 2011, the instructor was Alain Joseph, a Dal interdisciplinary PhD candidate researching agricultural and forest bioenergy. His focus was on renewable energies and looking at a number of environmental problems on different scales. For example, on a more personal scale, he asked students to investigate the effects of buying a new laptop—a new one may be more energy efficient, but are all the components of the old one recyclable? Were sustainable practices used in building the new one?

Whatever class you choose in the Environmental Science program, you’ll learn about the science required to help you better understand the complex issues surrounding today’s biggest environmental problems. And you’ll be challenged to put those skills to work to create solutions for a better, more sustainable future.