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UWCSEA-NUS partnerships flourish

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Daniel Orr
Head of High School Geography, Dover Campus
Nathan Hunt
Former Director of Sustainability

Nathan Hunt was Director of Sustainability at UWCSEA, a post recently created to help align to the College's Learning Programme and operations more closely with the UWC mission. Alongside this, he is the Environmental Stewardship Coordinator on Dover Campus and teaches the IB Diploma Environmental Systems and Societies course.

Until 2016 Nathan was Head of the IB Theory of Knowledge course at Dover Campus. Nathan left UWCSEA in Singapore to teach at UWC Maastricht.

UWCSEA-NUS partnerships flourish

Recent partnerships with academics at next-door NUS and Yale-NUS are proving very valuable learning opportunities for students.

With Dover Road becoming one of Singapore’s leading educational hubs, Dover Campus is certainly benefiting from being on good terms with its neighbouring academic institutions. Recent partnerships with academics at next-door NUS and Yale-NUS are proving very valuable learning opportunities for students...whether they are studying for IB Diplomas or PhDs. They are also directly contributing to our goals for Environmental Stewardship on campus.

When two Environmental Science Masters students currently studying at NUS wanted some land to carry out a field trial on measuring Microclimate effects of native trees in an urban environment, Head of Dover Campus Frazer Cairns and Head of Facilities and Operations Simon Thomas were quick to see the educational possibilities for our Dover students. In return for offering the use of our astro-turf, where our nurseries are currently sited, the ‘deal was sealed’ by ensuring that the two students publicize their work to our students and the wider community.  

Grade 11 Dover Campus Geography students at the tree research facilityTal Hertig and Felix Sadlo (studying in Zurich but on overseas placement at the NUS/Future Cities Laboratory) were keen to fulfil their side of the bargain and some of the first to benefit from their expertise have been the Grade 11 IB Geographers. An important unit in the Geography course is urban sustainability, part of which involves examining the effects of structures and human activity on urban microclimates, including the urban heat island effect. With the increasing threat of global warming, as a result of climate change, urban areas could become unbearably hot due to this heat island effect and understanding this interaction between the human and natural environment is the first step in helping to plan cities of the future. After visiting the field study, Grade 11 Geography student, Camila Fernández Nion, said: “It was great to see our Geography syllabus come to life on our own campus. I believe Geography is a subject that holds the key to solving many of Earth’s problems.”

In preparation for their residential field course in Melaka, the students were also able to gain an insight into how to use different data collection techniques to find out what effect an urban environment has on localised climate conditions: something which they will investigate in the Malaysian city this term.

Middle School Geography students also took up the offer to visit the research. Teacher Sarah Song said, ”The field experiments gave our Grade 8 students an opportunity to observe classroom discussion topics being put into real life action. It was heartening to see the aspirations of our mission statement reflected in the interaction and learning among the students visiting from Zurich and NUS and those from our community at UWCSEA. Tal and Felix were impressed by the depth of understanding apparent from the questions posed by the students. A great experience for all!”

Tal and Felix will also be talking to students carrying out Extended Essays in Science as their knowledge of experimental design is invaluable for Grade 11 students planning their studies  students. Frazer Cairns adds, “We benefit greatly by our students working alongside the researchers and in helping to take measurements we hope that their enthusiasm for practical research will be fired. We can also learn a great deal ourselves about how we can manage our immediate environment and it is interesting to note that a partnership developed between UWCSEA and researchers from ETH through an earlier experiment we hosted, contributed to the design of the new High School block. As a result the building will be one of the most energy efficient buildings in Singapore.”

The second partnership project on campus is with Yale-NUS, the new Liberal Arts College, and is also based on tree research. Assistant Professor Dr. Michiel Van Breugel is a tropical forest ecologist and was keen to link his own studies with the work of UWCSEA’s own Rainforest Restoration Project. With help from his doctoral student Hao Ran Lai and Assistant Director Singapore Botanic Gardens Elango Velautham, Dr. Van Breugel has designed an experiment in our tree nurseries to examine the responses of tree seedlings with various characteristics to different light levels. It is hoped that the data can then be used to help guide species selection for reforestation programmes in our region. The work will be carried out by our students working directly with the Yale-NUS team and hopefully also involve interested parents and staff. Dr. Van Breugel says this “is a great opportunity to pilot a real citizen science collaboration and make a genuine contribution to much needed reforestation research”.  

While the emphasis of both of these projects is on learning, clearly both could have very real outcomes for improved environmental stewardship in South East Asia. And even better, both will leave a legacy of enhanced native biodiversity on Dover Campus as many of the tree specimens (some of which are classified as critically endangered on the of IUCN’s Red list) will be planted out here this coming year.

Professor McAdoo with Grade 11 student Jasmine Cave-Jones at the Dover Campus ToK miniweekFinally one more recent collaboration took advantage of the fact that more and more of our students now have parents who work next door! For the Grade 11 Theory of Knowledge (TOK) Miniweek in January, Dover parent and Professor of Science at Yale-NUS, Brian McAdoo (pictured right with student Jasmine Cave-Jones) contributed to our lecture series on Integrating Knowledge for Human Understanding. Professor McAdoo’s presentation Trans-disciplinary Approaches to Disaster Risk Reduction might sound like a subject at an academic level way beyond our IB Diploma students, however the interactive style of the presentation and its direct relevance to their studies proved highly useful to them. Not only did Brian’s talk illustrate that a true understanding necessitates integrating thinking from different subject areas (a key purpose of the TOK course), but it also served to show that without this deliberate integration of local and academic knowledge, the humanitarian projects that their Global Concerns groups are involved in will rarely be successful.

As the main purpose of a UWCSEA education is to learn how to shape a better world, all three of these partnerships help us to put our mission into practice. As teachers and students we feel very privileged that our University neighbours are so willing work with us to achieve this.

Photographs by Simon Bignall

16 Jun 2015
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