Sitting majlis-style and surrounded by laptops, papers and smart phones, Education City students spent an evening discussing the impact of climate change on Qatar’s food security.
Organized by Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar with support from Qatar Foundation, Education City’s first Campus Conversation event drew more than 100 students interested in how global climate change might affect future generations. In groups of about 10, students from different universities, majors and years came together to share their knowledge and ideas – and learn from each other.
The concept is simple, explained Robert Cavalier, co-director of the Program for Deliberative Democracy at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh: “We think better when we think together.”
Since 2005, Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh has hosted more than 10 conversations on important issues like academic integrity and the cost of health care. In its first event, the Qatar campus asked students to explore the link between climate change and food sustainability, asking how issues like loss of agricultural lands and depletion of fish might be addressed.
Carnegie Mellon professors in philosophy and biological sciences teamed up with the university’s Division of Students Affairs to offer the program, which attracted students from five of the six Education City universities, said Jill Duffy, student development coordinator.
“One of the most meaningful aspects of the Campus Conversation program is how it promotes engagement within one’s own community. Ultimately we want to foster a sense of agency in our students, so that they can go out into their respective communities and make a positive difference,” Duffy said.
Following a discussion period, each group posed their questions and ideas to an expert panel, which highlighted local initiatives and weighed in on the students’ proposals. Moderated by Steff Gaulter, senior meteorologist at Al Jazeera English, the panel comprised Fedaa Ali, chief researcher at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute; Patrick Linke, professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University at Qatar; Mari Luomi, a postdoctoral fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for International and Regional Studies; Marouf Tirad Mahmoud, from Vodafone Qatar; and Robert Wirsing, a visiting professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar.
Making sustainability trendy, buying up foreign land and conserving water – especially in a country that subsidizes utility bills – were among the issues raised by students.
“We thought about establishing an Education City farm to grow produce that we could give to the community,” said Layal Al-Alami, a Carnegie Mellon student majoring in business administration.
According to Cavalier, Campus Conversations not only creates a more informed student body, but also yields “consulting power” for future changes. In this case, students completed a post-event survey that assessed what changes students would like to see in Education City.
“We are really interested to see how students want to make an impact, as this can guide future programs,” said Christopher Silva, sustainability education coordinator for Qatar Foundation.
The Division of Student Affairs hopes to utilize the Campus Conversations model in the future to address questions and issues that are important to students, both within Carnegie Mellon Qatar and the broader Education City community.
“The students were excited about the program and have suggestions for future conversations, so I think we’ll be seeing more Campus Conversations in the future,” Duffy said.