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Educating sustainability change agents: the importance of practical skills and experience
- Heiskanen, Eva, Thidell, Åke, Rodhe, Håkan
- Journal of cleaner production 2016 v.123 pp. 218-226
- education, interviews, leadership, learning, problem solving, professionals, students, surveys, sustainable development, teams
- Sustainability professionals are agents for change towards sustainable development. Such professionals require knowledge from a variety of disciplines, but also competencies to accomplish real-word change. This article evaluates an innovative course, Strategic Environmental Development, which immerses students in a real-life solution-oriented consultancy project in order to develop critical sustainability change agent skills and confidence in using them. Since 1996, students have worked in 127 projects in 28 countries. The evaluation builds on a post-graduation survey and personal interviews with graduates. Our findings indicate that the course, which is conducted as teamwork and often overseas, helps to prepare students for their challenges at work. It does so by requiring them to work with interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary situations, and to find, translate and combine information outside their own area of expertise, including knowledge from the field. We also argue that working in real-life contexts helps to build up the confidence and leadership that practicing sustainability professionals direly need. A real-life consultancy course helps students become professionals by helping them experience that they are able to access the necessary knowledge for problem-solving quickly and decisively. Moreover, students develop a sense of agency through the experience of being capable to accomplish change. Our findings contribute to a small but growing body of knowledge on the value of using real-world learning experiences in the education of sustainability professionals.