Choose Your Own Adventure: Misha and Marga on their MEd Experience

The first MEd in Educational Studies – Education for Sustainability cohort program offered by the UBC Faculty of Education is about to wrap up. The part-time program is unique in that it engages participants from diverse backgrounds in real-world projects enmeshed in questions of learning and scholarship. The program is a partnership with CityStudio Vancouver and is supported by the City of Vancouver.

We spoke with two students from the current cohort, to learn what attracted them to the program, their experience so far and how they feel the program will add (or has already added) value to their career. Marga currently works as a Planning Assistant with the City of Vancouver’s Sustainability group (a job she started while in the program) and Misha is a Vancouver-based filmmaker.

Read their experiences below and consider applying to the Education for Sustainability program by March 30, 2018.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Marga: I studied Biology for my undergrad but wanted to work in something more community-based rather than research-based. I thought perhaps planning or something similar. After a year working at the Vancouver Public Library and as the Volunteer Coordinator for Car Free Day, I decided to enrol in the MEd program. A friend who had participated in the SFU Semester at CityStudio program told me about it.

Misha: I did my undergrad in Philosophy. After university, I did a lot of filmmaking. I was in Africa for ten years for the UN and was in charge of logistics at airport on different missions. I started filmmaking with my spare time and became increasingly concerned with ecology. While overseas, I hurt my leg so couldn’t work and thought, “What can I do while I’m healing that will take me where I want to go?” I decided to pursue filmmaking focused on sustainability which led me to this program.

Why did you choose this MEd program?

Marga: To be honest, I wasn’t sure if wanted to go into Education (ie. be a teacher) but I spoke with Rob (VanWynsberghe, the program instructor) about where an MEd could take me and he explained how diverse the course and projects are and how I could more-or-less tailor it to what I want. This was a huge selling point, considering my experience in academia was very prescribed and single track. This program reminded me of a ‘choose your own adventure.’

Misha: I was attracted by this program’s sustainability feature and it’s non-traditional framework. I liked the idea of getting a master’s through creating something meaningful. ‘Learning by doing’ really appealed to me. It’s something I didn’t find in traditional education.

What does a typical week in the program look like?

Misha: We would usually meet as a group once a week to discuss our project then as a cohort we’d meet Saturdays (around 9am to 5pm) at CityStudio. Each day was designed like a workshop. Rob would decide what topic we would cover based on what people needed to facilitate their projects. Saturdays were usually devoted to workshops around those resources and we’d often have guest speakers come in. We would also use the time to check-in with the group and present our projects, get ideas, etc.

What has your experience been so far?

Marga: Being in the program has opened my eyes to how working across sectors can push for collective impact and transformative change on larger scale. It made me realize that student-led projects can actually make small change, which can inspire big change. It’s given me a lot more hope and motivation to continue doing little things to create a more sustainable community.

Misha: With such an adaptive education model, the experience is largely up to you and it’s been an amazing experience so far. It’s geared towards providing you with both the social and material resources that you need to further your project goals. I came in with a vision of what I wanted to do and it helped me define the vision and execute.

Is the program what you expected?

Marga: I didn’t really know what to expect. When talking to Rob about program and structure, it sounded different from a traditional master’s program and it hasn’t failed to live up to that. It is so different than being in a lecture hall. We participate in rich dialogue, discussion, fun projects on-the-ground and now I can see the change that the projects are making. I also didn’t expect how much we’d be outside the classroom! We went on a two-day canoe trip on the Fraser River. The concept of a ‘classroom’ has changed for me.

Misha: It’s worked out better than I expected, but it wasn’t what I expected. It empowered me to experiment with what I thought I wanted, figure out that that’s not it and provided me with resources to support me through that change. The program is so incredibly adaptive that you aren’t stuck with the intention you come in with.

Tell us about your projects. How did they come to be? What was the creation process? What are the next steps, now that the program is nearly finished?

Marga: Our project is Rewild Vancouver. Usually ‘rewilding’ brings to mind ideas of bringing the city back to pure state of nature, but we created a new definition: a reimagination of how to incorporate ideas of rewilding into the city from the bottom up; how to engage all residents in the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City goals. To achieve this, we made kits to engage people with the goals and sold them at the tree sale as well as organized stakeholder engagement activities and celebratory activations at Riley Park and the UBC botanical garden. It was empowering and elevating to see people’s reaction and see them connect with these ideas. It made it real how Vancouver residents really do love nature. Two of our group members are still working on things as a personal project and are trying to get the kits into classrooms.

Misha: Our project is called Alone Together. It’s two films: one is a myth about being disconnected from nature; the second documents the loneliness that new immigrants often feel. One of our group members is an immigrant so she narrated her personal struggle. The films are still gathering views online which was our goal; to create awareness of the loneliness epidemic.

But this wasn’t our group’s original project idea. We knew we wanted to do something with film and sustainability, but didn’t know what. Initially because of the City of Vancouver’s interest in sea-level rise, we thought, “Let’s do that,” and were gathering data and research on that issue in Vancouver. But when we spoke with the City, we realized there wouldn’t be a lot of funding available, so we decided to pick something we were genuinely passionate about: loneliness. Loneliness has huge implications for sustainability because loneliness is a symptom of a lack of community and if you don’t have strong communities, then you’re not going to successfully tackle sustainability issues. Studies have shown that isolated people don’t engage, don’t participate in the protests or activism that is required for ecological sustainability.

How did the City of Vancouver support your project?

Marga: The support provided by the City of Vancouver was great. We started with wild ideas and Brad [Badelt, Acting Assistant Director of the City’s Sustainability group] came into the class and helped us rein them in and identify the gap. He provided great project feedback. We also consulted with Dana Macdonald of the Vancouver Park Board who gave good feedback. Taking our kit to HUBBUB was also very helpful for gathering feedback!

Do you feel the program added value for you? Would you recommend it?

Marga: Yes, for sure. I’m working at the City of Vancouver now because of the program. Many of my peers in the program are teachers or already have jobs, but participating in the program boosts their careers. Many of them are like me, trying to find their way in the job world. It’s a great way to make positive change in the world without being in a silo.

Misha: Yes, definitely. It’s hard to do anything without a critical-but-supportive community. I’d recommend it for people that don’t want their master’s to be about essay writing. It’s awesome if you want to work on real-world projects and if you want your master’s project to make a positive change. The higher education system we’re in trains people to write essays. A program like this might scare a lot of people, but we need more of it. It’s the right direction.

Where will we find you after the MEd?

Marga: Hopefully still at the City of Vancouver! As a Planning Assistant, my work supports groups doing work for the Greenest City Action Plan. It ranges from social media to research to community engagement. It’s great!

Misha: I love seeing communities come together to do things creatively together. I’m often at the Pancakes & Jam event that happens on the east side. There’s live music, a dance floor, open mike and endless pancakes. You may also find me on a mountain or on YouTube telling traditional-style myths (powerful stories that you can organize your life around), but definitely still in Vancouver for a while.

See the student projects here and consider applying for the next cohort starting August 2018.

The MEd in Educational Studies – Education for Sustainability (EFS2) is offered by the UBC Faculty of Education in partnership with CityStudio Vancouver. The City of Vancouver have again agreed to support and mentor group projects and provide substantial staff resources to do so.

Start Date: August 2018
Length: 2 years, part-time
Format: Face-to-Face
Application Deadline: March 30, 2018