Alexa Dimick, UB assistant professor of learning and
What are you doing to help UB become more
The most significant way that I help UB become more sustainable
is through my teaching. I ‘teach teachers,’ or
primarily teach graduate students who are learning to become
teachers. In many of my courses, I integrate learning about civic
action and the environment. For example, this past Spring, my
students learned both the scientific and historical contexts of a
local creek and created lesson plans for their future classes that
focused on studying local waterways with elementary aged students.
My hope in doing this work is that it might have a lasting
influence (beyond our semester’s work) on both the soon-to-be
teachers who may teach about local environmental sustainability
issues and on their future students who will learn about it. Too
often, young children learn about the environment through
heart-wrenching stories about polar bears. Although these are
important stories, the most developmentally appropriate ways for
young people to learn about the environment is through developing
strong and relatable connections to their local environment.
What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you
pursue at UB?
My current research project focuses on young people’s
environmental participation and its connection to their classroom
learning in urban schools. Many environmental educators aim to
prepare students to actively participate in addressing
environmental issues at both societal and personal levels, but
researchers have yet to figure out which sorts of classroom
experiences might support young people to develop as environmental
participants. This concern is especially great for the youth in
poor and urban communities who often live on the
margins—socially, economically, and frequently
environmentally as well. Thus, in my research I work with high
school environmental science teachers who are deeply engaged in
this process, so that we can learn from them and their students
about the most significant classroom experiences that influence
youth’s environmental actions.
How are students involved in your sustainability
Students play a number of roles in my sustainability work. The
doctoral students, who are research assistants on my project, and I
work on all levels of the research together. I also integrate my
research into my teaching of pre-service teachers by incorporating
learning about our local sustainability issues. In both of these
aspects, I always learn a lot alongside my students and learn from
the thoughtful ways that they approach their learning and research.
For example, two of my students did a civic action project for my
class in which they studied UB’s recycling system and found
that a majority of the students, faculty, and staff they
interviewed had too little knowledge about UB’s recycling
system. As a result, they identified UB’s helpful recycling
diagram and posted it on every bin in Baldy Hall (the location of
the School of Education). They also set up a meeting with
UB’s Office of Sustainability so they could share their
findings and activities.
What is the one thing you would like people to know that you
do in your personal life to further sustainability?
I can always do more! One of the most significant ways I try to
work towards sustainability is by reducing. I think reducing what
we purchase and reducing our CO emissions (driving less, using less
electricity, etc.) can have a sizable impact on sustainability, but
it’s one thing that’s really hard for people to
do—myself included. A few years ago, I tried a self-imposed
experiment of not buying anything new (only used) for a year
(except food and those sorts of essentials that you can’t
really buy used). It helped me to reorient my thinking about needs,
wants, and how I could reduce, reuse, and repair things to make do
with what I had.
How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?
UB is doing a lot of things to raise our awareness of
sustainability. One area that I would love to see improve is in
UB’s impact on our local water. UB has a large footprint of
impermeable surfaces, from parking lots to rooftops and sidewalks.
We can ‘do more’ by studying how much water run-off UB
is responsible for, examining the quality of that water (chemicals,
temperature, amount, etc.), and then addressing this issue to
improve our local environment, such as by integrating more rain
gardens (like the one already on UB’s South campus!) and