Marta Vicarelli, assistant professor in the School of Public Policy and the department of economics, recently connected students in her environmental policy course with experts working on innovative sustainability efforts around the world, with the help of a Ken Feinberg Course Development Grant.
The grant, made possible by a gift from UMass Amherst alumnus Ken Feinberg, included access to the Feinberg Innovation Space, a new classroom facility with cutting-edge audio and video capabilities. The grant allowed Vicarelli to bring speakers from organizations including the United Nations, the European Union, the Nature Conservancy and the Philippine government to meet with her students via teleconference. She was also able to record the talks so they can be made available to others outside the class.
The course considered contemporary environmental policy issues, with a focus on their economic dimensions. The international experts added a crucial comparative element, allowing students to learn about initiatives happening outside the U.S., in countries that represent “the frontier of innovation in policy,” Vicarelli said. “Students learned about paths adopted by other countries toward the greening of their economies, without compromising economic growth.”
Vicarelli invited guest speakers with deep practical experience in environmental policy. “They are all dealing with the fundamental construction of policy, right now,” she said. Ali Raza Rizvi of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, for example, spoke about how ecosystem conservation strategies can help reduce the effects of climate change. Irina Pavlova, a project officer at UNESCO, talked about how cultural heritage is threatened by environmental hazards and how her organization promotes sustainable risk management. Maria Lourdes Ferrer, director of policy and planning services with the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources, spoke about the extensive climate adaptation efforts undertaken by that government.
“Seeing, hearing, and interacting with the actual people who are making a positive difference in the world provided insight into the practical mindset needed to bridge contemplation and application,” said PJ Niver, a School of Public Policy graduate student.
The course also provided students with networking and professional development opportunities. “The speakers were very eager to share with the students, who are their future colleagues,” Vicarelli said. “The younger generation understands that this is the future. They want to take action and incorporate sustainability into their work. And with this class they are learning that they can do well by doing good.”