During this summer ETHsustainability, the center for sustainability at the ETH Zurich, hosted two sessions of the Youth Encounter on Sustainability (YES) course. The YES course concept was launched in the year 2000 under the platform of the Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS) – an international partnership between the University of Tokyo, MIT Boston, ETH Zurich and Chalmers University Göteborg. Over the last 6 years the program has brought together over 600 upper-level undergraduate and graduate university students from 85 different countries to discuss global challenges and opportunities for future living and development. During the two-week sessions, participants are sensitized to general sustainability issues and are required to bring in their own perspectives, expertise, and experience from a regional level. The large diversity of cultures, languages and disciplines and the opportunity to work together with other outstanding students and esteemed international faculty make the YES environment both challenging and enriching for all those involved.
This year each session of the course gathered 34 students from 25 different countries, selected from a large pool of applicants, to live and work together for 2 weeks in the Swiss Alps. The educational model on which the course is based supports teaching and learning through various pedagogical methodologies. Emotional and empathy- building components play a substantial role in the course framework and in differentiating it from other sustainability courses. The 2006 courses were designed under the theme of «Living for 10 Billion people by 2050», and were structured in four modules covering the concept of sustainability; natural and human systems; physical needs (energy and materials, nutrition and health, living space); and psychological/ social needs. The program offers participants diverse activities including lectures, small group discussions, student presentations, and plenary discussion with an interdisciplinary and international faculty and facilitation team. Evening lectures and discussion with invited experts, conversation within the group, cultural events, excursions, and a two-week small-group case study add significantly to the experience. This innovative approach to education relies heavily on the formation of emotional bonds among those participating. Having students live together and share responsibility as well as challenging them in new ways, for example, by having them carry out creative and artistic activities with a professional artist, serves the goal of building a community of dedicated young people.
During the program the participants worked in regional groups on the topic of Energy, more specifi cally addressing what a sustainable energy future means for their region and what needs to be done to move society towards this. At the end of the program the participants presented their reports and debated the outcomes in the plenary. A selected group of participants have been invited to present their findings at this year’s Academia Engelberg Dialogue on Science to be held in Engelberg, Switzerland from October 9th — 11th. This year the conference takes the theme «Rethinking our Energy Future — Smart, Sustainable and Secure» and a group of 8 YES alumni students from this years courses will present their perspectives of the future of energy in their region and run various workshops with the conference participants.
The YES sessions this year were again highly successful and concluded with a new group of dedicated, inspired, and motivated alumni. These individuals came away with a greater understanding of other cultures and their views on sustainability matters and of the interconnectedness between environmental, economic and social issues. The two weeks made them more open to others’ views and alternative solutions to problems as well as making them more aware of their own capabilities and power as students and young professionals. Each participant benefi ted from gaining new skills and knowledge across disciplinary and cultural boundaries and from learning that, despite regional differences, there are others around the world with similar concerns and willingness to act.
As part of the program to expand the YES course concept around the world, the next program will focus on the Central and Eastern Europe region. This course will be run from September 8th — 25th in Zuberec, Slovakia. Further courses are planned for Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Japan in the future.
Check the ETHsustainability website for details on how to apply for upcoming courses: www.sustainability.ethz. ch/en/activities/yesprograms.cfm.