Which education is needed to build a sustainable future?

The event, “Which education is needed to build a sustainable future?”, that took place on the 13th of May at the International House of Northern Denmark was one for the books. The goal of the event was to challenge the current state of education and reflect on which skills, in terms of education, might be lacking in order to build a sustainable future. The two main groups involved were UNYA, Aalborg, who provided a platform for the event, and BEST. Among the participants were students, recent graduates, and professionals from all backgrounds that engaged in a workshop, which highlighted the current state of education in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals, with a particular focus on the eleventh: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

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The various groups brainstorming during the workshop (Photo by: Pierre Vogler Finck).

“I definitely see the benefit of working in an interdisciplinary group, as an engineer. The more people you work with, the more angles you can see a project from, which is great. To be a good engineer you really need to be versatile” – Emil Bock Nielsen. 

BEST focuses on developing European students and is an organization that “…strives to help European students of technology to become more internationally minded, by reaching a better understanding of European cultures and developing capacities to work on an international basis. Therefore [creating] opportunities for the students to meet and learn from one another through […] academic and non-academic events and educational symposia”. A-STEP 2030 is a project affiliated with BEST and is an ongoing research project funded by Erasmus+, engaging all stakeholders of education to shape the future curriculum of the engineering education. At the centre of this project lies the values of students from all backgrounds and the learning experiences across four European countries: France, Ireland, Finland, and Denmark.

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One group of participants, comprising of one engineer and two advisors, trying to develop various parts of Aalborg in accordance to the SDG’s (Photo by: Pierre Vogler Finck).

After the introductions, the participants were divided into groups from different disciplines, with each group having an engineer and a couple of advisors from mainly a humanities or another ‘soft’ discipline. The purpose of this was to make each group diverse in their educational backgrounds, with some from ‘hard’ and more technical backgrounds, and ones from softer backgrounds. Each group was given three areas of Aalborg that needed developing; a post-industrial area, a spacious grassland area and a section of the inner city, of which needed to house 500 people as well as make the city more attractive for business and potential tourism. The engineers were sent into a room to receive their instructions about what the goals of development were from an engineering perspective, while the advisors chose three SDG’s each that were to be achieved through developing the spaces.

Various Groups working on the workshop (Photos by: Pierre Vogler Finck).

With this in mind, each group had to brainstorm ideas. The ideas ranged from turning the unused hospital in the city centre into a multi-faceted community centre with a job centre, and education centre and a woman’s centre, to creating a bird park in the more open grassland space to making a staircase apartment building with eco-terraces to promote sustainable agriculture. These ideas were largely shaped around the chosen SDG’s in each group, which the engineers had to accommodate. One of the engineers in the workshop, Emil Bock Nielsen who is in his last semester of his bachelors in Environmental Science, stated, “I definitely see the benefit of working in an interdisciplinary group, as an engineer. The more people you work with, the more angles you can see a project from, which is great. To be a good engineer you really need to be versatile”. When asked about his experience in the workshop, Nielsen said, “the thing that stuck out the most to me was that the advisors had all of these broader and more abstract ideas, but as an engineer you really want to make things concrete. It’s more about how can I do this instead of why should I do this, or what are the goals we want to achieve. I think as an engineer you are really more focused on a sub-section of a bigger piece, and I think we always need to broaden the picture, which this exercise simulated through including advisors from different disciplines in the planning process”.   

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Another group of participants, comprising of one engineer and two advisors, trying to develop various parts of Aalborg in accordance to the SDG’s (Photo by: Pierre Vogler Finck).

The exercise didn’t come without its challenges. Working with people from different fields can be challenging as each discipline has its own language, and communication was a recurring difficulty in all groups. This is a challenge that will have to be developed in the future if engineers are to collaborate with people from other disciplines. Adit Nand Kishore, who has a background in sustainable energy, highlighted such difficulties:

“As an engineer, it was challenging to be able to decide what role you should play in such a situation. I had to ask myself whether I was going to be the one making most of the decisions and only ask for advice on the surface level, or if I wanted to involve my advisors a lot more. I decided that I was going to be more open to my advisors’ ideas and didn’t take such a decisive role, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. The time constraint was also challenging as we didn’t have enough time to talk about the goals of the entire team and accommodate them. The misconnect was really aligning the engineer’s thoughts and the advisors’ thoughts who chose the SDG’s”.  

After the workshop, the participants enjoyed some sandwiches and recharged for the next part of the event. Reflections on the workshop were discussed, and many fruitful comments were made in terms of challenges and possible solutions that BEST will take into account. Next, Professor Jakob Stoustrup, the associate dean of education at the TECH faculty at AAU shared with us an extra-curricular project that he has been working on, which is a Mega-project where students can engage in a project that will allow them to work in a group with people from different studies, making it interdisciplinary. This will be the first project of its kind, and is still very much in its infancy, but Stoustrup hopes to make it an option for all studies to participate in at AAU someday as he believes that every study is important to build a sustainable future. The way of going about that is to work across studies and incorporate the SDG’s into education. Stoustrup wants to level up AAU’s ‘problem-based learning’ to ‘challenge-based learning’ through these mega projects as he believes this is the way to best prepare students for the future and achieve sustainability.  

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Professor Jakob Stoustrup, the associate dean of education at the TECH faculty at AAU, talking about his views on sustainable education and introducing the Mega project concept to us (Photo by: Pierre Vogler Finck). 

Lukas Leer Bysted, a student in his 8th semester at AAU with a background in Interaction Design, shared his thoughts on the mega-project, too. Bysted is currently doing his project on exploring how a mega project could possibly function, and got a lot out of the feedback from the participants. “Once we get the mega project working properly, students would, very concretely, be able to see how student groups actually work on the same problem, and how that enables them to see very clearly what their role is, and what the roles of  the other students are. They will be able to see how to use all their strengths together to make a fruitful project”, stated Bysted. 

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Lukas Leer Bysted presenting his take on the matter (Photo by: Pierre Vogler Finck).

After a successful event that benefited the participants greatly, as well as it’s organizers, biotechnology student Line Kloster Pedersen from BEST was very happy with the turnout. “My personal drive to make this event, and centre it around sustainability, is because I think it’s the responsibility of education to make people aware of how they should solve problems. I feel personally unprepared for the future if I don’t have an element of sustainability in my education, so I’m trying to help future generations have the SDG’s at the core of their education”. Pedersen played a central role in the organisation of the event, and sees the value of an interdisciplinary approach to education that centres itself around sustainable development. Pedersen further stated that, “I think what I’m most proud of today is that the event brought other students, regulators of education, such as the vice dean, and the people who are actually working on these issues, such as the engineers, together. It enabled people to see that these are the people they can go to if they want to see a change, which really empowered people through the design of the event”.

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Line Kloster Pedersen, one of the main organisers of the event, encouraging us to reflect on the first parts of the workshop (Photo by Pierre Vogler Finck).

“I think what I’m most proud of today is that the event brought other students, regulators of education, such as the vice dean, and the people who are actually working on these issues, such as the engineers, together” – Line Kloster Pedersen. 

If you couldn’t make it to the event but are still keen to know more about how you can engage in sustainable development, no matter which study you are from, there is a multilingual event on the 16th of May called “Åbent planlægningsmøde for SDG udvalget” from 14:00 – 16:00 at 407 Gammeltorv 12, 9000 Aalborg, Danmark. You can check it out on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2128145290639126/

Article by: Michaela Higgins Sørensen

Article Edited by: Jacob Blasius Thomsen

Caption Photo By: Pierre Vogler Finck 

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