Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Experiential Journal: Sustainability Case Studies from Australia

By Brittany Ryan

To complete my Course Enrichment Component, I attended the two hour Community Resilience lecture presented by Dr. Helen Ross, and fulfilled the other three hours emailing Dr. Ross and reading through her resume and publications.

On February 6, I attended the first presentation in the Expert Practitioner Series for the Ramapo College Masters in Sustainability Studies program. Dr. Helen Ross is an Environmental Psychologist and Anthropologist and a professor of Rural Community Development at the University of Queensland, Australia. Dr. Ross has spent the last 25 years studying Aboriginal communities and their participation in environmental management. She also is an expert in population growth and the resilience of communities, specifically in Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands.

Community resilience is largely relevant to several regions worldwide – if not everywhere. Dr. Ross studies the overlap between social resilience and sustainability.

The two case studies that Dr. Ross presented to us included the research she completed in Stanthorpe, Southeast Queensland and Carins, North Queensland, Australia. At Stanthorpe, she spent three years under a participatory action project, where she incorporated sustainability and other models to improve the psychological well-being of the community. The project involved three phases, where the first two were about collecting data on how the community perceives resiliency. The key concepts identified by the members were social networks and support, positive outlooks, learning, early experience, environment and lifestyle, infrastructure and support services, sense of purpose, diverse and innovative economy, embracing differences, beliefs, and leadership.

During phase three, a “resilience toolkit” was utilized where the strengths of the community were built upon. This toolkit is designed to improve the cooperation within the community. For example, the cultural and economic diversity of the community can be used to build local relationships in helping one another in crisis versus competing with one another. The primary objective is to motivate the community to support one another by developing their own solutions to problems. The objective of interveners, or those interested in enhancing community resilience, is to identify the strengths of a community, build social networks and people-to-place relationships, and engage the community through activities. 

The most important concept I pulled from her presentation was the interdependency resilience and sustainability have on one another. The two concepts are far from separate; forming resilient communities allows for a complex system to become adaptive to changing environments, which is necessary to uphold a sustainable community.

Following her presentation, I emailed Dr. Ross to inquire about her biography; I wanted to learn more about how her passion in the field developed. In doing so, I also learned quite a bit about her accomplishments thus far. Originally, Dr. Ross focused on social impact assessments and over time, she gradually established an interest in community resilience. This was primarily sparked from her recognizing the dynamics of the communities, the way in which they responded to impacting situations and how the responses shaped the result of those impacts. 

Dr. Ross has written sixteen books, co-authored almost 70 journal articles and reports, and served on five different professional boards. Her accomplishments are astounding and it is incredible to witness how much an individual can accomplish in a lifetime. It truly is inspiring and reassuring to see that it is possible to achieve incredible honors and hold such extensive experience in an array of areas.

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