Dealing with Common Problems Over Uncommon Distance

Campuses in Montréal and Mexico Work for A Better Environment

Education is supposed to leave an indelible legacy — but not in terms of a mountain of plastic water bottles left behind by thirsty students, not to be measured by the extent of waste generated by colleges and universities as they try to improve the world one student at a time.

Gisela Frias, a researcher and instructor in geography at Dawson College in Montréal, is project director on a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Dawson faculty and students will work with counterparts in Mexico to promote environmental sustainability on campuses in both countries.

“Our universities and colleges have a social responsibility, we need to be pioneers in terms of being able to reflect on overall social and environmental issues and respond to them by providing solutions,” Frias said in an interview. “We can’t just generate knowledge through research. It has to inform our own operations, we have to be what we are saying to the rest of society.”

Sharing Our Knowledge to Create Sustainable Campuses, a book coordinated by Frias and a Mexican colleague, Margarita Hurtado Badiola, defines sustainable campuses: “A sustainable institution protects life, water and energy and avoids producing waste. It includes environmental content in the curriculum and strives for equity and social justice.”

The SSHRC Community and College Social Innovation Fund project Frias is overseeing had its beginnings in her work with colleagues in Mexico that led to that book. The project’s goal is to design and implement projects to make campuses more environmentally sustainable and, through them, to establish a culture of sustainability on the campuses — and beyond, as students take their knowledge and practices with them after graduation.

As in an earlier project for the International Development Research Centre, students from Dawson are travelling to Mexico to work on sustainability projects in the partner institutions there, teaching and learning as they do so. They’ll then bring the knowledge they’ve developed back to Montreal to share. Over the three years of the project, six students per year will travel to Mexico. They will be drawn from three programs at Dawson — Community Recreation and Leadership Training, Environmental Studies and Environmental Sciences.

Ella Martin, a Dawson College student who travelled to Mexico for the project in 2015 said just their presence on campus as they worked on their projects (including a solar oven and a “chimney” to let heat escape from a building) was enough to get people interested in sustainability. “I think that our presence really made both the students in Mexico and us realize how truly global the concept of sustainability is: people are working towards this same goal around the world,” she said.

There are challenges to a project with partners so far apart, but monthly online meetings and annual workshops will help Frias and her Mexican partners share knowledge. The partners also plan an accredited sustainable campus course given collectively by all of them in Mexico at the end of the first year of the project.

About Dawson College

Dawson College is a large, long-established educational institution within Quebec’s network of CEGEPs that is woven into the fabric of academic life in Montreal. Dawson... Learn more