Student experiences benefit the planet

Image shows a hand holding a pine cone against a lush backdrop of greenery

José Etcheverry, an associate professor in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, is determined to help solve the world’s current climate emergency by training students how to thrive in jobs focused on climate solutions.

José Etcheverry
José Etcheverry

His latest federal grant from Co-operative Education Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada is one small piece of a multi-pronged effort and he is confident that it will have a global impact. The grant provides funding to develop UNSDG Precision Agriculture, Renewable Energies & Sustainable Enterprise Training (UPARESET) and offer stipends for 55 students at York and other post-secondary institutions to participate in the training program.

This extra-curricular training program runs from April 12 to May 15 and will largely be delivered online, given the current pandemic restrictions. Etcheverry, working with a number of community partners, will offer students practical training on precision agriculture, climate change solutions and local sustainable development strategies, using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) and the Earth Charter as guidelines. The training will also be informed by the International Renewable Energy Academy educational programs, Project Climate Change goals and the ArtsHelp digital UNSDG program.

“One silver lining to COVID-19 is the impact on online education,” says Etcheverry. “We can now reach people in a way we never could before.”

Another important lesson from COVID-19, Etcheverry says in reference to the rapid vaccine development, is that “science matters. When you combine science with public-private investment, miracles happen.” He believes the same sense of urgency and determination can be applied to climate change, a potential tragedy “which makes COVID-19 look like a walk in the park by comparison.”

Etcheverry’s commitment dovetails nicely with York University’s Academic Plan for 2021-2025, which states, “Over the next five years, we will challenge ourselves as a University to deepen our collective contributions to the United Nations’ seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). … This SDG Challenge will galvanize our community in coming together to engage critically with the SDGs and to take meaningful steps, both small and large, toward a more just and sustainable future.”

The 55 students taking part in the CEWIL grant will be working in groups with community partners on sustainability projects in a number of fields, including regenerative precision farming, Indigenous knowledge, hydroponics and aquaponics, business and mindfulness, economic development in at-risk neighbourhoods and permaculture. The community partners who are happy to share their knowledge with students include, among others:

Dale Hamilton
Dale Hamilton

Dale Hamilton, the grant project co-ordinator, says the students chosen for the program are all passionate about sustainability. They’ll receive training in various aspects of sustainable and regenerative agriculture while learning other marketable skills.

“They’ll be getting a stipend and practical training, and in working collaboratively with partner organizations, they’ll be able to see if there is something that appeals to them in career terms,” says Hamilton. “They’ll learn marketing skills, along with sustainable food production. These are all skills needed in a growth industry, so it will position them well for employment.”

Given that Etcheverry and Hamilton spent two years nurturing these community partnerships, she is confident that the partners are “a really solid group.” Etcheverry, himself, heads Project Climate Change, which is working on developing Climate Solutions Parks that demonstrate permaculture and ways of implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Codrina Ibanescu, a graduating environmental science student who is president of both the Rural Urban Learning Association and York’s Carbon Free Club, is helping to co-ordinate the project, but will also take part in the training.

Codrina Ibanescu
Codrina Ibanescu

“In addition to the work with our community partners, there will be an overarching training module that brings us speakers on topics such as the UNSDGs, permaculture and Indigenous agriculture,” Ibanescu says.

At the close of their 60 hours of training, each student group will be responsible for delivering a presentation to the group as a whole, summarizing their professional work plan and their commitment to addressing the SDGs. In addition to the stipend, each student will receive personal protection equipment and a certificate of completion for UN Earth Charter training.

“What excites me most is bringing people together toward an interconnected vision of the planet,” Ibanescu says. “I like how engaged and inspired the students are.

“It’s a spark of light during a dark period of time.”

Etcheverry and his team will also be hosting an Earth Day event for York University and the wider community. All are welcome to join them at

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus