We’ve got a new plan for sustainability

Sustainability means more than new technology to save the environment.  It’s about communities, about culture, about people making big changes and thriving as they adapt. 

While there are dozens of masters degree programs around the country that focus on sustainability as a business decision, or a new technological response, there’s no place to go to learn practical tools to tap into the human side of sustainability.

 No place except Saybrook.  The Organizational Systems masters degree specializing in sustainability leadership that’s offered by the Graduate College of Psychology and Humanistic Studies is a unique program that goes where other programs don’t:  it looks beyond new technology to address human systems, how people adapt effectively to change, and how organizations can creatively bring out the best in people.

 That program is now set to grow and expand, and has new co-directors who will focus on its development.

 Kathia Laszlo, a Saybrook human science alumna who co-founded the international think-tank Syntony Quest, is joined by new faculty member Erica Kohl-Arenas, who received her PhD in education from UC Berkeley and her MA in community development from UC Davis.  

 They say Saybrook’s MA in sustainability is poised to play an instrumental role in helping the world transition – in big ways and small – to new models of sustainable practice.

 “How do we transform the world if we don’t understand how to transform ourselves?” Laszlo asks.  “Sustainability is on everybody’s radar now, but to think that we can solve these issues through technology alone is naïve and dangerous – it’s exactly the kind of thinking that got us into this trouble in the first place.  How we organize and reach people, and connect them positively to change, is crucially important.”

 Kohl-Arenas agrees. 

“Real transformation occurs both at the abstract level, the idea, and on the ground:  how a theory plays out in practice,” she says.  “Our students have the opportunity to explore at organizations that attempt to address problems of inequity, poverty, and powerlessness through community development programs, public programming through institutions such as schools, government assistance, and private foundations and corporate initiatives.  They can also seek alternatives to the systems that create unsustainable human conditions, such as unchecked globalized trade and development policies, a shrinking welfare state, and global environmental degradation that effects indigenous communities.”

In particular, she says, students won’t be taught that there is “one way” to approach sustainability:  instead, they’ll master the process of coming up with innovative new ideas, working with people in the field to test them, and adjusting for what really does and doesn’t work.

“With this approach we’ll train students who have the critical thinking skills to re-define problems and create new approaches, which means that when they’re faced with a complex challenge or road block in a system, they’ll have a better set of tools than students who are trained in just one model or approach,” she says.

As for the nuts and bolts of the MA program, Laszlo says they intend to build “upon the very strong platform we already have.”

“I think this will be an evolutionary process to learn how to make what we have more powerful,” she says.  “Mostly that will involve new ways to communicate what is unique about this program and how it connects with and contributes to so many of the initiatives and changes that are happening already in this country and beyond.”

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