Australia Trip Motivates Students to Apply Sustainability at Home

Ohio State students learned about one of the biggest issues humanity is facing today, the effects of climate change, during a study abroad trip to Australia in May 2017.

“The trip just cleared my thoughts and made my resolve stronger that I do want to make a positive difference for our environment, especially the ocean ecosystem,” says Felline Roda, who is studying environmental policy and decision making with a specialization in international policy and law. She also is earning a minor in environmental science with a focus on water science.

This past May, Roda joined fellow students and traveled to North Queensland, Australia, for a study abroad program through the School of Environmental and Natural Resources. The program, “Australia: Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment,” gave a group of about 28 students the opportunity to earn six credit hours during the three weeks spent learning about sustainability Down Under.

Roda and Jackie Reusser, a senior studying environmental science with a specialization in ecosystem restoration, received travel funding assistance for the trip from the Office of Energy and Environment.

Reusser recounts that she and fellow students heard anecdotes from Aboriginal elders about the oppression of their people at the hands of European colonization during a visit to Mungalla Station, a restored farm. The Aboriginals are indigenous descendants from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands before European colonization. A focus of the study abroad program was to analyze sustainable relationships between Aboriginal society and surrounding ecosystems by integrating ecological, biological and social science disciplines.

Throughout the trip, students stayed with farm families and learned about water scarcity issues, the struggles of living in isolated areas, and Queensland’s agriculture and habitat restoration efforts. They again conversed with Aboriginal elders at Mission Beach and learned about the agricultural struggles and habitat restoration of the outback at a gold mine. To study modern sustainability efforts, they traveled to Hidden Valley’s ecolodge resort, which operates entirely on solar panels.

The students snorkeled with reef experts, too. Here, students saw firsthand the effects of climate change in parts of the Great Barrier Reef. They learned about wetland and reef restoration projects to combat the effects of climate change and agricultural runoff at the Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium, Reusser explains. Students then partnered with Reef Ecologic, a research and consulting firm, to help conduct a distribution survey at Magnetic Island with the goal of removing algae from the reef itself. Immersion into a variety of Queensland’s ecosystems, especially the ocean, was an integral part of the program.

Both students say they gained valuable insight into sustainability and have big plans for their futures at Ohio State.

This study abroad program taught students how to apply important aspects of sustainability to their own daily lives, Roda explains. She says they learned to conserve water and energy by doing laundry less frequently and turning lights off when possible. She says a career as an environmental policy analyst at the United States Agency for International Development would be a dream come true, but she would love to work for any agency, company or institution working toward the betterment of the environment and society as a whole. Overall, trip taught her to become much more aware not just of her water and energy consumption but also the different facets of environmental issues. This awareness will help guide her in making rational decisions in both policy making and her personal life. Roda also hopes to share the tools she learned with fellow Buckeyes to contribute to the betterment of society domestically and internationally.

Reusser emphasizes that the key to making a change is persistence and passion, which can trump monetary wealth and power. She has served on the executive boards of Students for a Sustainable Campus and Buckeye Friends of Stone Lab here at Ohio State. She aspires to travel worldwide and aid in ecological restoration projects in impoverished, polluted areas to bring equilibrium to the environment and the human societies existing within them. As far as gaining valuable experience from this program, Reusser says, “I will never forget the impact one person can have in this world.”

Ravleen Kaur is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.