Turning Awareness into Action: Barnard’s “Environmental Leadership, Ethics and Action” class

By Claire Mathieson

Setting the stage.

It has been a whirlwind semester for the twelve students in the interdisciplinary Science and Public Policy  program’s Environmental Leadership, Ethics, and Action class. On Wednesday December 7th they presented their Green Action Projects at the panel “Awareness into Action II: Speaking Out on the Environment.” Professor Diane Dittrick of Barnard’s Environmental Science department asked the students to spend the semester pursuing an environmental passion and become an expert on it, keeping weekly blogs along the way. Assisted by environmental journalist Katherine Bagley, the students learned how to write professional blog posts, the best of which were published on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s blog On Earth. Wednesday night was the culmination of their work, when they finally showed the semester’s results to the public.

The topics varied from one end of the environmental spectrum to the other, with short presentations on community gardens, composting, hydrofracking, the collapse of bee colonies and coral reefs, biomimicry, eating sustainably, environmental art, the overharvesting of medicinal plants, the degradation of the Tibetan grasslands, social justice in communities devastated by oil extraction, and conflict minerals in the Congo.

Students present their work.

Throughout the semester, the students had researched their topics and performed the journalistic aspects of the course (such as interviews) on their own. In class, they delved into environmental literature, discussing and debating leadership and ethics through a green lens, led by Professor Dittrick and Professor Randall Balmer of the Religion department. Each student had a different background when it came to the environment and majors varied from Environmental Science and Chemistry to Spanish and Anthropology. Drawing on models like Majora Carter and John Francis, students were encouraged to find the vision and the drive within themselves to become leaders in the environmental movement.

Professor Dittrick, who had taught the class only once before, was extremely pleased with each student’s results and declared the panel a success. After the presentations, the students opened the floor for questions, encouraging other Barnard students and members of the community to join in on the same discussions that they have been having weekly throughout the semester. Despite the heavy nature of many of the topics, there was an air of lightness in the room as the evening came to a close. After months of hard work, each student had fulfilled what she had set out to do: encourage action through heightened awareness.

Claire is a junior at Barnard and Features Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing. She was in the Environmental Leadership, Ethics and Action class this semester.

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