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Ist Prize, Post Secondary Education Category, "Making a Difference" Essay Contest, 2010

By Phaedra Jaggernauth

February 9, 2011

Phaedra Jaggernauth

 Phaedra Jaggernauth is studying for a Master of Philosophy degree (M.Phil.) in alternative energy at the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

Essay Question: How would you improve your school so that it prepares future leaders to protect the planet?

Anyone who has seen the movie Avatar by James Cameron would remember the fight of the Na'vi indigenous people of Pandora to save their environment from the destructive "Sky People." Another aspect that stands out in this movie is the immensely important leadership role of Jake Sully in rallying and organising the Na'vi to the eventual successful routing of their enemies.

Leaders are extremely important in a world where human brains comprehend through categorisation. John C. Maxwell notes in his book, Developing the Leader Within You, that leadership traits can be learned, and that, ultimately, leadership is rooted in how much one influences others.

Leadership being contingent on influence, logic dictates that anyone can be a leader: we all have multiple interactions with others every day and through these interactions, influence others. Teachers influence their students; parents influence children; students influence other students. Thus teachers, parents and students are leaders in a microcosm of society, whereas the ministers of government, the chairmen of large companies and the managers are leaders on a larger scale.

All citizens are exposed to the education system. The degree of exposure depends on the level of education to which they aspire. An excellent way to prepare future leaders for the task of protecting the planet is therefore through the education system.

My school is a tertiary educational institution named the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). UTT can be improved to prepare future leaders to protect the environment through two simultaneous and integrated approaches.

The first approach is to expose all students to be mini-leaders in any environment in which they find themselves. These mini-leaders are the teachers who explain the concept of greenhouse gases to their students; the parents who discipline children who waste water; and the students who tell other students that littering is unacceptable. UTT can accomplish this by exposing all its students to a manner of living that ingrains the habits and concepts of protecting the environment deep within the student psyche. The second approach builds on the first to create a next level of future society leaders: the government ministers and managers who direct the country's policies, especially with respect to the environment and sustainable development, and the people who influence public perceptions, such as journalists and vocal, independent academics.

The first approach depends on changing the infrastructure, decreasing energy and waste requirements, incorporating green principles into the UTT syllabi, and promoting mentorship programs.

Changing the infrastructure of UTT involves replacing most of the petroleum-fuel-dependent electronics to becoming solar-dependent. UTT is situated in the country of Trinidad and Tobago, which is approximately ten degrees north of the equator. Its vibrant tropical climate ensures that solar energy is a dependable and renewable source of energy.

Apart from installing solar panels for energy, UTT can also decrease its energy needs by opting to use one day in the week for on-line lectures, tutorials or study sessions, where students and teachers are not required to be at the campus. On that day, the campus utilises only the most essential energy and the students do not utilise any transportation fuel.

UTT possesses a research center for renewable energy. With some time and sufficient investment, as well as encouragement for research students, UTT could produce high quality biofuel made completely from renewable energy. Solar energy can be used to power small scale biodiesel production, with feedstock being obtained from the agricultural centers in UTT. This biodiesel can in turn be used to power the transport for students to the campuses from their homes or from transportation centres such as bus stops. This decreases the need for students to use petroleum fuel in their vehicles to attend classes. This should be with the understanding that biodiesel is a temporary solution to liquid fuel energy for transport, since there are disadvantages to biodiesel such as its high nitrogen oxide emission content, and its perceived competition with vegetable food supplies. Long term solutions should be considered, such as using a cleaner, more available energy source such as hydrogen from water as fuel, or solar-powered vehicles, which may be available at lower costs in the future once the technology has been researched thoroughly.

UTT can request that the government subsidize a drive to grant all new students a netbook or laptop upon registration. All assignments should be mandated to be emailed, not printed; recommended textbooks should be obtained electronically to decrease photocopying; lecture notes should be typed and sent to students, and students should have a program installed in their laptops that allows them to complete handwritten notes during classes electronically rather than in a paper notebook. This decreases the waste generated by paper, by pens, and by printer ink. UTT and the government can specify that all laptop/notebook material should be recyclable, and ensure that all students sign an agreement regarding disposal of these technical devices.

Sustainability and good environmental practices should be listed as mandatory courses for all new students. UTT can also direct that certain subjects, such as chemistry and engineering, should teach green chemistry and green engineering principles and integrate these into laboratory assignments. Creative ways should be formulated to include protection of the environment into other subjects where the link is not immediately apparent. An example would be requesting Spanish students to complete an essay on that topic, or examining the historical events (such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill) that have promoted the current awareness of our need to remain in harmony with our environment.

UTT should also encourage active mentorship programs with current leaders in society. For those leaders who are extremely busy, UTT can organise short seminars where the students can interact with them afterwards to supplement an ongoing mentorship program.

All the techniques listed above should hopefully expose the average student to good environmental practices that they can implement and impart to others when they leave the university environment. However, UTT would also like to prepare the leaders who have a larger sphere of influence. This is the second approach, which relies on the first for a foundation.

UTT can encourage competitions such as debates on the topics of protecting the environment and sustainability. Sizable prizes such as cash incentives should encourage a lot proportion of talented students to take part in the debates. Other competitions can include calypso competitions (calypso being an art form in Trinidad and Tobago that includes composing and singing), short-film, drama and art competitions. Movietowne, a movie theatre establishment, has been particularly supportive of local film-making in the past, and is a potential ally for finding an audience for the films thus produced. Essay, short story, and poetry competitions, with publications in national newspapers, can also be organised to prepare future leaders to be vocal and bold about their beliefs.

Trinidad and Tobago possesses seven local television stations. Partnering with one or more of these stations, UTT can perhaps organise a reality-type television series based on its students working in groups competing in different projects, or a business plan, related to protecting the environment. This not only prepares the future leaders for presence in the public arena, it also exposes, hence influences, the watchers at home. A mediator in the program can point out the behaviours that are exhibited by the students, both negative and positive, in order to teach more affective (rather than cognitive) concepts, such as integrity and responsibility, which are also very important traits of a leader.

Recognising that one has a responsibility to give back to society is a very important leadership trait. Encouraging the formation of clubs (this particular one of which is not present at this time) which complete events such as beach clean-ups, replanting seedlings, visiting primary schools is another way UTT can prepare future leaders.

A student council that will meet with the Board members and other senior UTT members can be formed. This council should specifically address ideas related to protecting the environment. They should meet the general student population and bring creative ideas from that body to the UTT Board members in order to implement, once agreed by Board members. Not only does it ensure that the general student population's creativity have a voice, it also introduces members of the council to the forum of dealing with the "big players," and discerning how they think.

These are the ways that my school, the University of Trinidad and Tobago, can be improved so that it prepares future leaders to protect the planet. There is a note of caution, however: John C. Maxwell notes that true leaders have a sense of responsibility and innate integrity. Although one of the methods described above does try to address this part of a leader, those qualities, truly, cannot be taught at a university level, but must be ingrained in students prior to tertiary education.

This contest was part of the Council's second annual SEPTEMBER SUSTAINABILITY MONTH, which kicked off a year of events and resources on sustainability. Generous funding of the Carnegie Council's 2010-2011 sustainability programming has been provided by Hewlett-Packard and by Booz & Company.

 

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