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Video conference call focuses on science and sustainability

By Sabrina Chow

Section: News

November 3, 2017

Faculty and students gathered in the Faculty Club Lounge on Oct. 30 for a video conference call with Dr. Mandy Singer-Brodowski to discuss the ways that science can influence social change.

Singer-Brodowksi was a founding member of “netzwek n,” a nationwide network in Germany focused on student initiatives and served as part of the German national committee when the UN “Decade of Education for Sustainable Development” was implemented.

After leaving the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy in 2015, she completed her Ph.D. and was appointed the position of scientific coordinator of the Center for Transformation Research and Sustainability at the University of Wuppertal. There, her research focuses on development of student competency in sustainability projects and transformative learning.

Throughout her talk, Singer-Brodowski focused on the idea of transformative science, which is “a specific type of science that does not only observe and describe societal transformation processes, but rather initiates and catalyzes them,” she said. “Transformative science aims to improve our understanding of transformation processes and to simultaneously increase societal capacity to reflect on them.”

Transformative science is split up into two different sections: research and education. Transformative research focuses on the unity of design and production in relation to different interdisciplinary processes as well as the integration of system and orientation knowledge. Singer-Brodowski emphasized the role of transformative research in its “role of scientific knowledge production as a form of societal intervention that aims at catalyze for societal change processes.”

Transformative learning involves an environment in which teachers are more there to facilitate discussion, and students are the main driving force. Singer-Brodowksi in her speech uses transformative learning to tackle the issue of climate change. She pushes the idea that “concepts of transformative learning [are] with the aim of an increasing reflectivity, critical discussions and political actions (instead of sustainable lifestyles).” There are three main “competences” that need to be accomplished: system-thinking, interpersonal and normative.

System-thinking competence involves students becoming more knowledgeable about issues in relation to the topic that is being studied. After becoming knowledgeable about the issues, the next step is interpersonal competence: having the ability to realize how the problem affects you individually. When individuals realize their relationship to the situation, it is necessary to translate the action to a larger setting.

The process of transformative learning has been in effect for years, even at Brandeis. Benedikt Reynolds ’19, Chair of the Student Union Sustainability Committee, has seen firsthand both the benefits and potential of transformative learning. In project-oriented classes, “the students are lectured and then mentored when pursuing their own passion-project that realm of the class.” Translating this type of learning toward classes outside of the arts, which often utilize this concept, allows different areas of study to have the possibility of expansion.

Reynolds also believes that “this type of learning will prepare our students for their careers as well as provide them [with] a strong portfolio of their work.” He continued, “Not to mention, the university could use our work to their benefit and improve campus life.”

The sustainability committee this semester, according to Reynolds, is targeting different ways “to conjure sustainable culture from the undergraduate student body.” Reynolds also “encourage[s] students to actively voice their concerns for the environment to their clubs, and find out ways to run them sustainably: Require a recycling and compost bin at each event…eliminate paper advertisements, whatever it takes to make your club members aware of their impact on their environment.”

Mary Fischer, manager of sustainability programs at Brandeis, arranged for students to attend the Sustainability Student Leader Symposium on Nov. 5 at Emerson College for a virtual symposium with students around the northeast United States. The symposium will allow different schools to collaborate on sharing their sustainability efforts to inspire other campuses to follow in pursuit. Fischer highlights the symposium as an “effort by universities in the area to bring their students together so they can learn from each other. Peer to peer communication at this level is invaluable.”

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