Sustainability in Biology


In the new biology specialization, we are developing pathways to guide students through their undergraduate degree, not only in preparation for careers or continued study, but also as informed global citizens.  While students can select courses within biology to follow a number of these pathways, a sustainability option (link to pathway project working documents) goes beyond biology course offerings.  Coordination and collaboration with other departments and faculties is necessary to help students build interdisciplinary competencies and provide them balanced coverage of sustainability concepts, skills, and values.  The UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI) Teaching and Learning Office outlines four desired attributes of graduating students who have followed a sustainability pathway.  These include holistic systems thinking, sustainability knowledge, awareness and integration across intellectual constructs, and acting for positive change.  Biology will work with USI to use these attributes to develop learning objectives and identify courses (both existing and to be developed) that will comprise the sustainability pathway.  Currently the Faculties of Science and Arts are developing a second year introductory sustainability course that will provide foundational knowledge.  UBC courses that have sustainability content will be evaluated and a selection will be identified to support the three pillars of sustainability in the central part of the pathway.  A fourth year capstone course will provide students the opportunity to reflect and consolidate the skills and knowledge acquired throughout their studies in sustainability as well as provide a venue for students from different disciplines to work together to share and build upon their experiences.  Because this course will be multidisciplinary, participation by other units in its development is essential. One of our primary goals is to develop a pathway model that is easily adopted by other units.

Our responsibility to students and society is to provide the framework for study and be exemplars of sustainable practice. In addition to utilizing mindmaps, a biology-specific advising network and website will be created.  The flexibility in the pathway
necessitates effective advising whether a student elects to take on a full-interdisciplinary route of study (in the form of a concentration or minor) or decides to take a smaller smpling of sustainability courses; students will design a personalized route and incorporate sustainability-related activities (e.g. Community Service Learning, SEEDS projects, etc).


The principle objectives of the project are to:

  • Develop a sustainability pathway for students in biology that integrates the three pillars of sustainability and addresses attributes as outlined by the USI Teaching and Learning Office.
  • Use the USI’s attributes to develop learning objectives for the sustainability pathway.
  • Identify courses currently offered that support the pathway.
  • Identify and evaluate sustainability initiatives at other institutions.
  • Determine if additional course development is required to support sustainability teaching and learning.
  • Develop an interdisciplinary capstone course.
  • Develop graphics and mindmaps to assist comprehension on sustainability.
  • Explore ways to administer a pathway (minor in sustainability studies, concentration, etc).
  • Establish partnerships with other groups on campus including UBC Community Service Learning Initiative, SEEDS, Go Global, COOP, and Let’s Talk Science.
  • Develop pathway model other units can adopt.
  • Develop advising website and network for students pursuing a focus/concentration of sustainability.

Members of the Sustainability Pathway Committee:
Shona Ellis
– Chair (Associate Head of Biology, Sustainability in Biology Committee, UBC)
Gary Bradfield (Botany, Sustainability in Biology Committee, UBC)
Ileana Costrut (Program Coordinator)
Rob DeWreede (Faculty, Associate Dean of Science)
Kurt Grimm (Earth and Ocean Science, Sustainability Fellow 2011/2012, UBC)
Douw Steyn (Earth and Ocean Science, Environmental Science, UBC)
Chris Lee (Botany Graduate Student, Sustainability in Biology Committee, UBC)
Nicholas Coops (Faculty of Forestry, University Sustainability Teaching and Learning Office, UBC)
Jean Marcus  (University Sustainability Teaching and Learning Office, UBC)
Andrew Riseman (University Sustainability Teaching and Learning Office, Land and Food Systems, UBC)
George Tsiknis (Computer Science, UBC)
Niloufar Heidary (Biology Undergraduate Student, Sustainability in Biology Committee, UBC)

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