Sustainability symposium aims to educate, empower and engage

PSU students partner with PCC and GPSEN for Sustainability Symposium

The Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network and Portland Community College will co-host a Sustainability Symposium with the theme “Community Research: Shaping Sustainability for a Greater Portland and Planet.” The symposium will take place 1–9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27th at PCC’s Sylvania Campus in southwest Portland.

The event will include a keynote speaker, TED talk-style presentations, workshops, a poster session, tabling, a networking reception, and an awards ceremony in order to highlight local academic and community research on sustainability issues. Amy Pearl of Hatch Innovation was chosen as the keynote speaker in the hope that people will be inspired to think differently about what it means to be innovative and resilient.

GPSEN is part of a global network of 149 Regional Centers of Expertise (RCE), which addresses and implements global and regional sustainability initiatives through collaborative partnerships, formal and informal education, training, and public awareness campaigns.

GPSEN’s slogan is “Educate Empower Engage,” and the symposium is attempting to do all three. Education will take the form of a wide array of speakers and presenters, of all grade levels (from children to retirees), in and out of academia.

“We are trying to identify ways for people to engage,” said Kim Smith, a sociology professor at PCC and GPSEN coordinator.

As a teacher, professor Smith has seen her students feel discouraged by current problems, so she reframed her teaching methods in order to demonstrate that it’s possible to make a difference. The symposium aims to do the same.

“The empowerment piece is to help people have hope that it is possible to create change, especially during this political era,” Smith said. “A big part of the intention for this event is to have folks feel inspired, to find out ways to get involved.” The symposium’s program includes a networking reception, where people can learn about other groups and find opportunities to be active.

The award ceremony also promises inspiration by highlighting individual leaders who exemplify progress in sustainability, equity and economics. Joel Magnuson is an economist who has contributed to the field of mindful economics, a movement that offers a democratically-based economic alternative to our current system. Ibrahim Ibrahim, a 16 year-old with the Muslim Education Trust, represented GPSEN at the global RCE meeting in Indonesia last month; this year he will be recognized as a leader of the youth network for the Americas.

Professor Smith emphasized the importance of youth participation. Another promising student is Bashar Al-Daomi, a doctoral candidate in Portland State’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and active leader at PSU.

He was invited to participate in two sessions at the GPSEN symposium. In the first, Al-Daomi will be a panelist, discussing the power of campus sustainability using specific case studies from PSU. In the second session, he will engage in a workshop focusing on enhancing leadership by expanding networking with various schools, centers and organizations related to sustainability.

“I believe the success of any type of work starts from the right networking and communication,” Al-Daomi said. He’s excited by how this event will bring together so many different groups with a common purpose.

“This symposium will have participants from the private sectors, civil society, government, and academia who are all looking for any opportunity to make future generations safer, more sustained, prospective, secured and flexible,” Al-Daomi said. “Moreover, they will discuss the best paths or strategies to shape three important life aspects: social justice, economic development and environment protection system.”

However, one of the challenges of organizing such an event has been navigating the abundance of interest in the Portland area and deciding which goals to focus on. Professor Smith described this as both a blessing a curse.

“Sustainability is a gigantic topic because it engulfs all different aspects, it’s not just the environment,” Smith said. “The challenge is building a container big enough to connect the dots. What does it mean to build a network?”

Sustainability efforts are also plagued by worries over the incoming president’s administration, lack of funding, and volunteer burn-out.

“We’re already at our limits and now everybody is asking us to double down,” Smith said.

Briar Schoon, sustainability manager at PCC, echoed these concerns, saying that this work is more critical now than ever.

“I think what’s really important is providing the space for leaders in sustainability to come together so we can feel rejuvenated, as well as the strength in community, the strength in numbers,” Schoon said. “We are going to continue the good fight despite what hardships we face and what comes our way.”

The symposium is determined to garner hope, create the necessary opportunities for involvement, and rally the resources necessary for sustainable change.

“At least I have hope that there are good people doing good work,” Smith said. “We’re taking action to try to make progress and that’s what the symposium is about. I feel better when I know folks are trying and I feel better about myself when I know I’m trying.”