A Natural Evolution 424

Fleming College students in the field.

Canada’s environmental movement began to take shape in the early '70s. Environment Canada, World Wildlife Fund Canada, Greenpeace, the first Faculty of Environmental Studies (York U) and Alternatives Journal were all founded between 1967 and 1971. Roughly 30 years later, A\J produced its first Directory of Canadian Environmental Studies Programs.

What makes the study of environment unique is its multidisciplinary nature. For our first directory, we sought only those programs that integrated both scientific and social perspectives into environmental issues.

Today, this is a definitive standard in every environmental college and university program. And the result is a world that is more environmentally literate. Well over 100 educational institutions in Canada offer environmental study and training.

We asked Linda Skilton, Dean of Fleming College’s School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences (SENRS) and past chair of the Canadian College and University Environmental Network, to take us through the evolution of environmental education as it happened in one of Canada’s leading environmental colleges.

Fleming College's College’s School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences started out in 1967 in humble surroundings with just one program – Forestry.

Known then as the Forestry School, classes were held in St. Joseph’s Convent in Lindsay, Ontario. Programs eventually expanded further into the natural resources field to include Fish and Wildlife, Geology, and Resources Drilling. Along with that expansion came a 1973 move to a dedicated campus located on 60 hectares at the south end of Lindsay – the Frost Campus.

While early days focused on programs that involved resource extraction, over the years that view evolved to one of resource management and environmental protection. Some of the drivers included concerns related to climate change, water and food security and environmental health and safety.  The new millennium brought a new identity for the academic school, from natural resources to environmental and natural resource sciences. This shift in thinking was reflected in revised curriculum and learning outcomes of existing programs as well as the addition of new programs. These new programs featured interdisciplinary learning with a focus on the interaction between people, their communities and the natural world.

Today, Fleming’s School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences has grown to include 31 full-time programs, with two more to be offered in 2017. The programs at SENRS are unique – more than half are not offered at any other college in Ontario, and many can’t be found at any other post-secondary institution in Canada.

Thanks to 50 years of educational experience in the sector, and a well-respected reputation, Fleming has found that SENRS boasts more graduates working in the environmental and natural resources fields than any other college in Canada. We attribute the success of our programs, students and alumni to the excellent faculty as well as our emphasis on active, hands-on learning. This encompasses co-op opportunities, on-campus outdoor learning, and overnight field camps and courses, the latter of which, our graduates identify as one of the highlights of their experience at Fleming College.

Environmental education will be at the forefront of mitigation, resiliency and adaptation."

 

I have been with Fleming College for 30 years, including the last 10 years as the Dean of the School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences. My educational background and experience are within the field of education, and therefore, my observations are not from the point of view of how scientific study has changed over the last decade, but on how environmental education has changed in response to a multitude of factors. These factors include employer/sectoral needs, environmental priorities, and the shift in the way that student learning takes place.

Since 2006, I have observed a number of educational trends. Here are my top six.

An increase in work-integrated-learning via field placements, applied projects, and co-op education.  Most programs at SENRS have a work-integrated learning component. Co-op was introduced at SENRS in 2008 and we now offer 12 co-op programs at the Frost Campus. Credit for Product (C4P) is a unique course in the Ecosystem Management Technology program where students partner with a client on a specific project. The students take two C4P courses in their third and final year of study. Over 600 students have completed more than 11,000 hours in 325 environmental projects with more than 50 community partners. Some of our partners include organizations such as the Ontario Heritage Trust, Kawartha Conservation, the City of Kawartha Lakes, the City of Toronto, and the Lone Pine Marsh Sanctuary.

A shift toward internationalization, with more faculty and student experiences and exchanges abroad.  SENRS has partnered with the Yellow River Conservancy and Technical Institute (YRCTI) with a goal of delivering a joint program. In November 2016, a professor accompanied 10 Geographic Information Systems (GIS) students to YRCTI in Kaifeng, China, to complete a surveying field camp course. As well, for the last five years, students and faculty members in the Ecosystem Management program have participated in a two-week field placement at Pidwa Wilderness Reserve in South Africa, which will expand to a semester abroad in 2018. Costa Rica and Iceland are two other locations where students can participate in field placement courses. There are also student exchange opportunities at the University of Padua in Italy through our Forestry Technician program.

Applied research that ties into program curriculum.  Frost Campus is home to the Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment, which researches sustainable ways to treat wastewater and helps bring innovative water and wastewater technology closer to market/commercialization. Having this resource allows students in a variety of programs access to advanced research facilities right on campus. In fact, it was through the Environmental Technology program and faculty research into constructed wetlands technology that led to funding for a research facility on campus. The research and curricular expertise has, in turn, spurred the creation of the new graduate certificate program, Advanced Water Systems Operation and Management Co-op.

A variety of credentials in the mix.  Currently, students interested in environmental and natural resources careers have a number of options when it comes to credentials. From certificates to diplomas to post-graduate certificates, students can emerge with the credential that best fits their ability and ambition. In our experience, we have found that university graduates are attracted to shorter graduate certificates, such as Environmental Visual Communication (delivered at the Royal Ontario Museum) or the new Sustainable Waste Management program.  Over the last six years, SENRS has increased its post-graduate certificate offerings from two programs to nine programs. The ECO Canada (Environmental Careers Organization) subsector model for environmental employment was used to inform new program development during this period. In its 2013 Labour Market Research Study, ECO found that employment related to Environmental Health and Safety, Waste Management and Communication and Public Awareness were the top three.

More partnerships between colleges and universities.  SENRS has actively pursued partnerships with a number of post-secondary institutions to ensure students have a variety of options available to them to continue their studies – whether they are graduating from Fleming or coming to Fleming from another institution. These pathways allow our students to complete a diploma and degree in four or five years. This combination of theoretical and applied education has been identified by employers as a preference when hiring environmental graduates.

Examples of these partnerships include Urban Forestry with the University of New Brunswick, and Ecological Restoration with Trent University. In fact, SENRS has signed a formal memorandum of understanding with Trent’s School of the Environment to further collaborate on academic programming in areas related to environmental and natural resource studies.

University and college collaboration is a national trend. One example is the 2013 merger of the Community College Environmental Network (CCEN) and the Canadian University Environmental Science Network (CUESN) to create one national network for post-secondary environmental education: the CCUEN (Canadian College and University Environmental Network). Subsequently, the CCUEN has increased its membership and is partnering with organizations such as Alternatives Journal to advance its position as the national voice for environmental education.

Sustainable campuses.  We have actively adopted the concept of sustainability not only at Frost Campus but also throughout Fleming College. In recognition of these efforts, Fleming was recently awarded a STARS Silver Rating from AASHE (The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education). Our sustainability efforts openly engage all members of the college community, with students taking active and leading roles in many of our initiatives such as the bike share program and the on-campus community garden. As well, most diploma programs throughout the College have a sustainability component woven into the curriculum (greening of the curriculum), and learning activities have an emphasis on community-based learning. From being the first Canadian institution to ban all bottled water sales on campus (on Earth Day, April 11, 2011) to embedding sustainability into key strategic documents, Fleming has been a pioneer in implementing a whole-institution approach to sustainability.

With the recent international priorities related to climate change, environmental education will continue to be at the forefront of importance in mitigation, resiliency and adaptation. SENRS students will not only graduate with the critical skills for the “green” jobs in the low carbon economy, through their applied and experiential learning, but also graduate with the ability to be change agents in their work, their communities and their world. These graduates are the environmental leaders of tomorrow who will help to find the solutions to meet the current and future global challenges.

As Principal of Fleming College's Frost Campus and Dean of SENRS, Linda Skilton, now retired, played a lead role in how the school's programs were shaped and delivered. Dr. Skilton completed her Master of Arts in Education from Central Michigan University and completed her PhD in higher education from OISE at University of Toronto.

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