UBC Okanagan’s Bachelor of Sustainability a degree of change

Transformative Learning | Strategy 14: Interdisciplinary Education
Theme: Innovation
Jacqueline Rowe, an undergraduate student in UBC Okanagan’s Bachelor of Sustainability program.

On a hilltop in British Columbia, Jacqueline Rowe and her team watched smoke fill the skies as three separate wildfires raged across the landscapes of Kamloops, Merritt and West Kelowna. The encroaching blazes and the trail of devastation left behind underscored for Rowe the escalating threat of climate change and the pressing need for action.

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anxiety like that in nature,” says Rowe, an undergraduate student in UBC Okanagan’s Bachelor of Sustainability program. “It felt like all three fires were burning towards us, and I couldn’t help but wonder if summers will ever be the same as when we were kids.”

Replacing climate anxiety with climate action is one of the reasons Rowe enrolled at UBC Okanagan and eventually found herself on that hilltop as a summer research assistant. She’s part of UBCO’s first-ever cohort in the Bachelor of Sustainability program; her fieldwork with Dr. Mathieu Bourbonnais was a real-world extension of her classroom studies.

Rowe worked on a project to enhance real-time weather data collection in British Columbia, which was critical given the province’s vulnerability to wildfires. She helped deploy cost-effective weather stations in strategically chosen locations alongside a team of student researchers, significantly bolstering efforts to identify areas of risk and mitigate any possible fire risk.

People in downtown Kelowna watch the McDougall Creek wildfire burning across West Kelowna in August, 2023.

Despite the challenges and the heart-wrenching scenes of scorched landscapes, Rowe found solace in her meaningful contribution. “It was an incredible experience that really felt like it mattered. It felt like we were making a difference,” she says.

Rowe said she hopes to eventually take her education into marine ecosystem and salmon conservation. Those experiences are what Dr. Kevin Hanna wants for every student who enters the Bachelor of Sustainability program. In an innovative response to the escalating climate change and biodiversity loss crises, the degree reflects the understanding that these global challenges can’t be tackled by any single academic discipline.

The Bachelor of Sustainability is designed to immerse students in select concentrations, honing the knowledge, skills and attitudes crucial for actionable solutions on both local and global scales.

Please visit the UBC Okanagan News site to read the full story.

Through Strategy 14: Interdisciplinary Education, UBC is developing academic structures that foster and support opportunities for students from different perspectives and disciplines to work together on complex or emergent problems.