The world needs more professionals to tackle global sustainability challenges. From climate change and equitable economic development to poverty and hunger, these issues are complex, interconnected and deeply rooted. They affect everyone in myriad ways and to various degrees.
This means sustainability professionals will need the conceptual and critical thinking skills necessary for lifelong learning and career development if they plan to make an impact domestically and globally. The right cultural and technical skills will be crucial for their success. Virginia Tech’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS) has just the graduate degree for this. Designed to accommodate adult learners, Virginia Tech’s Master of Natural Resources (Online) graduate program has evolved to meet the needs of working professionals, offering flexibility across its 30 credit-hours. Many students complete their degrees in less than two years. The program welcomes students without a specific academic background or work experience in environmental science. With a low student-to-instructor ratio, learners get more individual focus from instructors with extensive online teaching experience.
Test your cultural competencies, then improve them
In this non-thesis program, students instead complete the team-based Global Study experience in one or more of these locations: Argentina, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Spain, and Finland. (Given the dynamic nature of travel at the moment, decisions on destinations and timing are informed by Virginia Tech’s travel and study abroad policies.)
Before setting out on the Global Study journey, students first undergo a cultural competence assessment called the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), which is part of the Global Issues in Environmental Sustainability core course. For IDI-certified faculty member Elizabeth Hurley, the assessment is part and parcel of developing self-awareness, because “if an individual doesn’t clearly understand their cultural perspective, they can’t fully appreciate and recognize the myriad of ways that someone else’s perspective may be different.”
The Global Study experience is designed to enable students to gain exposure to new cultures that will not only broaden their sustainability education but help them reflect on the varying obstacles, be they cultural or systemic, to the sustainability agenda. The aim is that eventually, students can “use their increased awareness to experience the world from a cultural perspective that is different from their own, without any kind of judgment,” says Hurley.
A platform for continuous learning
Developing intercultural competence starts with deeply understanding different cultures which is what the program helps students achieve, according to faculty member Neil Dampier. It “offers a unique and rare opportunity for students to reflect on their cultural competence, and provides the platform for continuous learning to further develop a deeper understanding of one’s own and other cultures.”
“Developing these essential skills is particularly relevant for any sustainability or natural resource management professional” he emphasizes.
Global Study provides students with the insights and direct experience that make this possible. For a Global Study trip to Argentina, MNR students will explore topics such as urban development, green infrastructure, and social justice in the mega city of Buenos Aires; climate change impacts, water and land use, civic engagement, and environmental security challenges in the famous wine-growing region of Mendoza. Pair this with Argentina’s natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant cultural identity, and students are set for an unforgettable experience.
“Buenos Aires is a great city for students of sustainability,” says Dr. Daniel Marcucci, who leads several Global Study trips. “It’s a large city that is globally significant and about the same size as Los Angeles. It’s the largest city in the country and the center of commerce and government for all of Argentina.”
Those heading to South Africa start their journey in Cape Town, visiting Table Mountain National Park nearby and examining the challenges and opportunities of having a national park adjacent to a rapidly growing city. Then, they travel to the Winelands, to learn more about the agricultural challenges of growing grapes during a changing climate and the economic role that wine plays in the area. The Garden Route, a beautiful area that contains some of the world’s rarest flower species but that is endangered by overtourism, is next. Finally, they end up at Kariega Game Reserve, where the positive and negative impacts of tourism will be discussed and experienced again, and students will learn firsthand about how rangers and game officials deal with human–wildlife conflict.
Visit multiple destinations
In response to student interest, starting this fall, the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability will provide an opportunity for Master of Natural Resources (Online) students interested in traveling on more than the one Global Study and in emphasizing international experiential learning during their time in the program.
Whichever country or countries MNR students choose, each is set to be uniquely fascinating and invaluable to not just their careers, but personal lives too. Ready to travel the world, grow personally and make a difference? Find out more about the graduate degree program and ways you can finance your degree by connecting with an academic advisor here.
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