Amidst the stunning natural landscape of south west England, change is happening. At the University of Plymouth, with a 650 mile-long coastline as backdrop, students are tackling global sustainability challenges on land and at sea.
Here, over 18,000 students — 2,000 of whom hail from over 100 countries — gather to learn how to transform the world they live in through sustainable solutions. The Vice Chancellor of the institution, Professor Judith Petts, believes that the university has the power to produce the sustainable leaders of tomorrow — with accolades to prove for this.
It is Top 10 in the UK, according to the People and Planet University League, the only comprehensive and independent league table of UK universities ranked by environmental and ethical performance. The Students’ Union achieved the NUS Green Impact “Excellence Outstanding” status.
Such impact makes for great learning. Hear from the students and graduates on how their School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences education have helped shape their careers and make a difference.
Alvania Lawen, BSc (Hons) Environmental Management and Sustainability
The natural environment matters to Seychelles-born Alvania Lawen. Her love for her home country brought her all the way to the UK, where she found the perfect university to explore her interest in environmental conservation.
The environmental management and sustainability major has made it her mission to protect Seychelles from the existential threat of climate change and rising sea levels. Believing that “no one is coming to save us,” Lawen chose the University of Plymouth in hopes that it will arm her with the knowledge she needs to fix the crises back home.
“The University of Plymouth’s BSc (Hons) Environmental Management and Sustainability course stood out as covering the important theoretical and practical aspects I wanted to understand,” she says. “The sustainability science module in particular has reinforced the things I learned while volunteering in Seychelles. This module introduced us to environmental systems and sustainability at different scales, learning investigative skills through field and laboratory work.”
Chloe So, BSc (Hons) Analytical Chemistry
Every degree programme at the university was designed with the Sustainable Development Goals in mind, and the BSc (Hons) Analytical Chemistry — now known as BSc (Hons) Chemistry — is no exception. After graduating, alumna Chloe So inspects products and toys for hazardous chemicals on a daily basis.
So returned to Hong Kong to work as an assistant chemist in Intertek Testing Services Hong Kong Ltd before getting promoted to chemist. She credits her alma mater for preparing her to face new challenges associated with the jump: “There were many experiments other than just theory,” she says. “The practical experiences consolidated my knowledge.”
The university made her more confident. Once nervous before getting on the plane and heading to the UK for her studies, So would later build a new home away from home in the UK thanks to the robust support she received from day one. “There was a collection at Heathrow airport, boat trips once we got to Plymouth on orientation day, free English courses, pleasant accommodation, and nice lectures,” she shares.
Patrick Roberts, BSc (Hons) Physical Geography and Geology
Just shy of a month after completing his BSc (Hons) Physical Geography and Geology degree at the University of Plymouth, Patrick Roberts found his calling in Geotechnical Engineering Ltd as an engineering geologist. He got the chance to work for the company thanks to a chance meeting with the company’s representatives at the school’s Geoscience careers fair.
It was his degree, however, that taught him how the Earth’s surface is shaped by natural and human processes — key to addressing many of the complex sustainability challenges facing the planet. By exploring seismic, landscape and volcanic geohazards, clean energy transitions, and long term environmental change, they gain a deep understanding of climate, environments, and the biosphere.
Asked what advice he had for anyone wanting to get into the same line of work, he said, “Talk to people in the industry, engage with any careers fairs or Personal Development Planning (PDP) modules available. Also, come in with an open mind and be prepared, whilst on site, for things to not always go to plan.”
Kelsey Parsons, BA (Hons) Geography and International Relations
Coming from Trinidad and Tobago, Kelsey Parsons had always loved being surrounded by water. Her BA (Hons) Geography and International Relations programme is not only close to Devon and Cornwall’s glorious beaches, coasts, rivers and estuaries, but makes the most of its geography’s strengths in tackling head on the biggest global challenges we face. Modules address many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and her degree is fully accredited by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).
“The University of Plymouth is one of the very few UK universities to offer this programme. Beyond that, the emphasis on a more practical rather than theoretical approach is what drew me to the course,” she explains. “Going into my third year, I can say that the course has challenged me, and I have gained skills and knowledge that are all relevant to life today. Even some of my assignments and lectures feature the current pandemic!”
To her, the social aspect of university is important. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Parsons hard, but it pushed her to try many new things like learn online, meet up with friends virtually, and teach dance classes via Zoom. “It allowed me to assess where I am, where I want to go, and that life is precious, so reach for the stars,” she says. “The aim is to do just that, starting with completing my degree, doing a master’s, and then hopefully working for the United Nations.”