Blog: The next generation of environmental thinkers by Monica Ortiz

Grantham Scholar Dr Monica Ortiz has been a shining example of how academics can do outreach. In her last blog before graduating, Monica tells us about her final outreach project. For this she went to met the next generation of environmental thinkers – kids. 

My time as a Grantham Scholar is soon coming to an end. In fact, I’ve already received a polite email from my department reminding me of my deadline (as if it’s not the last thing in my mind before I sleep!). And I’ve spent the last 6 months job hunting and doing interviews in search of an answer to ‘What’s next for you?’. Side note: I succeeded and got a job! Perhaps most importantly, the massive creature I call my thesis is slowly but surely taking the right shape.

Reasons to be grateful for my PhD

This is what everyone’s thesis looks like, right?

Although at present my feelings are an overwhelming mix of stress, fear, and excitement, there is one emotion that comes out on top: gratitude.

I am grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to have studied at one of the best universities in the UK – the University of Sheffield – as a fully-funded international student.

And I am grateful for the friendly ‘northern soul’ of Sheffield, the city that has been my home for the past 4 years.

Plus I am thankful for the training opportunities offered by my department and the Grantham Centre.

Also, I am deeply appreciative of all the kind, hardworking, and brilliant supervisors and mentors, colleagues, and friends I have met along the way. And also all those who got me here in the first place.

Teaching the next generation

Apart from all the training and learning opportunities, one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed the PhD is that my department also offers graduate students teaching work. Before my PhD, I taught at a university in the Philippines and in local communities that were keen to learn more about climate change. Prior to that, I worked and volunteered in environmental education and taught during my Master’s degree. So teaching – especially about climate change – is truly part of my identity as a person.

Therefore it was great to be invited by Dr Manoj Menon (a Grantham Centre supervisor) and Dr Maria Romero-Gonzalez to lead a workshop on climate change to Year 12 students on a Headstart summer school program. This program was funded by the Engineering Development Trust (EDT), which is a 3-day residential program for students interested in STEM.

Creating a mind map of the next generation of environmental thinkers

next generation environmental thinkers - a mind map from year 12.
The need for more solutions. Climate change mind maps from Year 12.

After discussing the basics of climate science and its impacts, I invited the students to create a mind map. This was to include several concepts around climate change: its causes, effects, and potential solutions.

The purpose of the activity was to engage the students in discussion about what they thought of the interconnectedness of climate change to our environment and our lives. Some of the pictures that I asked the students to link together included a picture of US President Donald Trump during his press conference when he withdrew from the Paris Agreement, a plate of meat versus a plate of veggies, and flooded cars near a Tube station.

Together with the help of student ambassadors, I created a list of some of the topics talked about. This included whether lab-cultured meat would be a sustainable option and how feed crops are using land that could be used for food. They also talked about the importance of consumer choices and how deforestation is a far-reaching environmental problem.

next generation environmental thinkers - a mind map from year 12.
Increased CO2 emissions from travel. Climate change mind maps from Year 12.

I was impressed by the knowledge and wisdom in that room. Not least because these people half my age (what did I know in Year 12? I was writing a dorky song about phosphorous for my environmental science class).

Hope for the future

It gives me hope to know that the future of our earth is in amazing hands. My time as a student is winding down. But the future sustainability leaders, climate change solvers and environmental innovators are just getting started.

I remain optimistic for the future of the planet. But we need to keep challenging ourselves – both the young and old – to think more sustainably.

Thank you Grantham Centre!

Edited by Claire Moran. The main images shows Monica hard at work learning animal tracks. All images by Monica Ortiz.

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