Lisa Roots, professor and academic advisor in police foundations and community and justice services, with her "simple life" sign from the See Earth retreat.
Lisa Roots, professor and academic advisor in police foundations and community and justice services, with her “simple life” sign from the See Earth retreat.


By: Brad Fougere

The bond created between the group of college staff who travelled to Costa Rica in May were subjected to poisonous spiders and snakes, rainforest hikes, and rafting adventure is strong. So when Environmental Sciences professor Jay Smith put out a call for members to join his sustainability committee eight of the 15 fellow See Earth participants agreed to come together, just like they had for 12 days in Costa Rica in May.

The group is now the Algonquin College Team for Sustainability (ACTS), a committee whose mandate is still being discussed. But the ‘raison d’être’ is clear.

“We want to inspire and support students in forming their own committee,” said Smith of ACTS, who plans to meet every three weeks this semester to develop strategy. “We know that for change to happen on campus, it’s really got to happen from the students.”

The idea for the committee was ongoing for Smith before his Costa Rican adventure.

“I had been working with the Sustainable Algonquin steering committee,” said Smith.

“Last April, we planned a campus sustainability week and I had my students take part in campus sustainability day. From there I was looking for ways I could increase student participation but also grow the culture here on campus.”

Another See Earth participant, Jennifer Matecki, a General Arts and Science professor, agrees.

“I’m looking forward to having students involved,” she said. “I don’t want this to be ‘this is what I want to happen.’ I want to see what students are going to bring to this because they’re the fire behind anything.”

Matecki, along with Lisa Roots, a professor and academic advisor in the police foundations program, is looking to establish a leadership role with future See Earth trips. The pair, who bonded on the trip over a similar finger injury, with Roots actually breaking her finger, have been taking Spanish lessons together in addition to working on their roles with ACTS.

The See Earth project that brought this group together started in 2005. The first three trips were partnerships between Algonquin and the Ottawa Carleton School Board. The idea for the program was that of Learning and Teaching Services director Glenn MacDougall. At the time he envisioned it, he was teaching biology and the science of the rainforest at Acadia University.

“I realized I was teaching something that I didn’t have any first hand experience with,” he said.

That spark led to the creation of See Earth. The program’s beginnings were a partnership between the college and the Ottawa Carleton School Board.

Now a faculty development program, it is billed as an experience in the rainforest.

“The most interesting part is to take a group who wouldn’t normally cross paths, bring them together through this shared experience and see how they develop as a group,” said MacDougall.

The trip has gained a reputation as a life-changing experience. But the finger break was a barrier to her experience, according to Roots.

“I didn’t experience life-changing moments, but, I experienced a lot of really good reminders,” she said. That physical barrier, though, has changed her perspective.

“I was reminded how there are so many people around me every day who are limited in what they can do not because they don’t want to, but because they physically can’t,” she said.

With an eye towards leading the 2015 edition of See Earth, Roots and Matecki will spend the time in between benefitting from the camaraderie they share with Smith and the other three See Earth alumni working with ACTS.