Nathan Hunt's contributions to UWCSEA's sustainability mission
By Brenda Whately, Director of Alumni Relations
As we say goodbye to Nathan Hunt, we reflect on the huge positive difference he has made at UWCSEA. With a Master’s degree in Geography from Cambridge and a background in environmental policy work, Nathan, former UWCSEA Director of Sustainability, started his first career in environmental policy research. It was while he was filling some of his spare time as a tour guide for American students visiting the UK however, that Nathan, luckily for UWCSEA, discovered his passion for working with students, and made the decision to pursue a teaching career. Not giving up his interest in environmental issues, while pursuing his PGC in Education he took part in a number of cross-curricular environmental studies and wrote a research paper on that subject.
Nathan first taught at UWCSEA from 2002 to 2006, and again from 2009 until now. He is leaving this year after 14 years teaching Geography, Environmental Systems and becoming Head of TOK (Theory of Knowledge) and subsequently, Director of Sustainability.
Arriving back at UWCSEA in 2009 after achieving a MSc in Sustainable Agriculture from Imperial College London, Nathan immediately began bringing his interest in environmental sustainability into his teaching of Geography, TOK and environmental systems. Over the next few years, more and more students and teachers across both campuses were becoming interested in starting environmental projects, and it became clear that coordination across the College as a whole in this area was needed. So, supported by a donation to the UWCSEA Foundation, an Environmental Stewardship position was created and Nathan was appointed to head up that role.
Students throughout the whole learning program have had the opportunity to work with Nathan. Some of the work supports the academic program so students studying Biology and Environmental Systems for instance can carry out work in the Rainforest Nursery or be involved in waste management projects. Nathan has supervised several extended essays based on sustainability subjects and the number he says, is growing each year. Through the service programme, students are involved in a number of groups with environmental themes, Outdoor Education includes sustainability themes and the PSE programme provides opportunities to get actively involved in this area as well.
The Rainforest Restoration Project has been one of Nathan’s major initiatives. He says, “It’s a passion project of mine and I am doing a lot of learning on the job. We are working increasingly with National Parks, Botanic Gardens, getting students involved on campus, getting other members of the community involved in tree planting and more importantly, learning about the trees and looking after and raising the trees. Most of our planting materials are provided by the Singapore Botanic Gardens and National Parks. Their director goes about the Southeast Asia region rescuing trees from forests being cut down, and we have become basically a satellite nursery of theirs. They are trying to involve other schools too, so we can save a lot more trees, doing ex-situ conservation . We work with Yale NUS and NUS also, and one of our students has just written an extended essay supervised by a NUS lecturer, which may hopefully be published.”
“Biodiversity loss in our region, tied to climate change is devastating - we are losing the forests. Trying to stress that in a way that allows kids to get involved is really crucial. Twenty trees were planted just this week by 20 classes of students. Another big initiative that we have worked on is zero waste in the canteen. LEAF GC (Global Concern), Middle School Environmental groups and parent groups have worked with Sodexo over eight years to gradually reduce single use plastics and start a composting project which has really taken off. Because of the size of UWCSEA, we make a difference. Other schools contact us to understand what we are doing in this area, to learn from us.” Nathan has also developed formal certification in tropical forest restoration for those students most interested and involved, “in the same way that students can achieve formal certification in social entrepreneurship through the IDEAS Hub.”
Along with working with current students, parents, staff, and community partners, Nathan also involves UWCSEA alumni. He says, “Being in touch with alumni involved in sustainability, some of whom come back to the college to get involved, and finding out what they are doing is very interesting. Two groups from East Campus just went out to Sabah to work with Dzaeman’s project this year (Dr Dzaeman Dzulkifli ‘04 is the Executive Director of the Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre, TRCRC in Malaysia) and we are hoping to do another long-term carbon offsetting project with him as well. It’s great to have that expertise. So many amazing and important things are happening in the region – it’s hard to leave because of that.”
But leave he will - unfortunately for UWCSEA, but not for the movement, as he is moving to UWC Maastricht. He says, “I am so happy to stay within UWC. Other schools are good international schools, but to work with this mission is a privilege. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched in 2015 and that is the better world we are aiming for – we all need to step up our role. Not everyone has to do biodiversity conservation or zero waste or sustainability – you need to work out where you can use what you are good at, to meet the needs of the world – and the needs of the world are clearly expressed in the UN SDGs. Everyone can touch one of those. You can be a skilled business person who can perhaps unlock the ability to finance the move to renewable energy. There are artists doing fantastic work raising awareness. What I love most is working with kids in nature, so that’s what I’ve done – someone else will come into this role and do something else that will use their skills. When our skills and interests meet the world’s needs, that’s where we can make a difference.”
“10 years is going to go quickly. Our current G2 students will graduate in 2030 and by that time we are meant to have solved climate change, poverty, hunger, peace…I think people understand the urgency and hopefully that will catalyse action.”
“I would like to stress, even though we have a long way to go and even though the work is hard and challenging, how much fun it has been. When we get students, alumni and parents involved, working with the UWCSEA Foundation, as well as Singapore and international partners, we are building a community around UWC. It’s the building of that community and having fun doing it, that I will miss most of all.”