Pathways to Change: Academic Engagement on Sustainability

In the courtyard of the 16th-century Sonnenborgh bastion - now a museum and observatory - a group of academics, communication specialists, students, and others gathered on 4 April 2024 to discuss several initiatives geared towards enhancing academic outreach related to sustainability.

Erik van Sebille welcomed everyone to the meeting and introduced the reason for this event. As the climate crisis becomes more pressing with the day, academics are seeking ways to make a significant impact. Many people at the university are asking themselves: ‘How can we do effective outreach on these very urgent topics’?

Giovanni Stijnen, director of Sonnenborgh, introduced their new initiative ‘The Climate Lab’ [Klimaatlab]. Without neglecting the importance of knowledge, facts and figures, he pleaded for the power of stories. Stories can enhance our knowledge while simultaneously affecting us emotionally. With the Climate Lab, Sonnenborgh aims to provide narratives that stimulate people’s imagination of the future and their reflection on our relationship with Earth.

Giovanni Stijnen was specifically asking for the expertise of scientists and scholars from all kinds of disciplinary backgrounds to be involved, as these stories need a sound, solid and fact-based foundation.

We love facts and figures, but we also want to change people’s mindset

The U-Talent program was next on stage, with Noort Bakx explaining how they connect higher education and research to secondary schools. The program hopes to spark motivation and curiosity in secondary school students by providing masterclasses, tours, and field trips to labs or research sites. U-Talent welcomes any new ideas from researchers for topics and projects.

Bjinse Dankert, one of the driving forces behind Tipping Point Ahead, challenged the audience’s climate knowledge with a small climate-related quiz, which was an example of how they develop educational materials for secondary school students and teachers. Tipping Point Ahead offers video clips, educational modules and short assignments that teachers can easily use in their lessons, all with the goal of engaging students and teachers with the topic of climate change.  

The three initiatives together presented the audience with a variety of examples of how to do outreach: via collaborating with cultural organizations, taking a secondary school class on a field trip, or developing materials that teachers themselves can use in their education. By tailoring outreach efforts to different audiences, these initiatives not only transfer academic knowledge but also add to a deeper understanding and feeling of connection to the urgency of our sustainability issues.

This lunch meeting was a joint initiative of the Pathways to Sustainability communities Science for Sustainability and Sustainability Education and Engagement.