Team of Penn Environmental Studies Master’s Students to Present at U.N.’s Rio+20 Conference June 15

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Media Contact:Julie McWilliams | | 215-898-1422June 12, 2012

PHILADELPHIA -- Three first-year graduate students in the University of Pennsylvania’s Master’s of Environmental Studies program are in Rio de Janeiro today in advance of the Rio+20 conference, where they will make a presentation on the role of higher educational institutions in sustainable development.

David Schreiber, Maria-Tzina “Gina” Leria and Ilke Schaart will represent Penn at this 20th anniversary United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held to gauge how far the world has come since the first worldwide summit on this topic was held in Rio in 1992.  An estimated 30,000 people, ages 16-29, are expected to attend from 30 countries.

“To prepare for becoming problem-solvers in this world, our students need to be proficient at integrating knowledge across disciplines, which is a cornerstone of our Penn Compact,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said.  “In our interconnected world, we need to break down traditional silos of academic disciplines for our graduates to be better prepared to address the emerging issues of sustainability, grounded in the humanitarian values and cross-disciplinary thinking that can and should be one of the hallmarks of a great liberal arts and science education.”

In their presentation, “Learning and Teaching Sustainability: From the University of Pennsylvania to the Developing World,” the Penn students will discuss:

  • Penn’s efforts in sustainable development, led by Gutmann, includes Penn’s Climate Action Plan, the creation of Penn Park and other new sustainably designed green spaces, leveraging campus building improvements into savings with environmental benefits and educational initiatives that provide students real-world experiences tackling local environmental challenges.
  • Penn’s ranking and experience as one of North America’s greenest campuses.
  • wH2O Journal at Penn, the first academic journal on women and water.
  • Penn’s experience as the first North American chapter of oikos international.
  • Penn students working in developing countries as part of global outreach.

Their hour-and-a-half presentation will be among 500 side events scheduled before the general conference sessions get under way June 20, but it is the only one, Schreiber said, that centers on the role of higher education institutions in sustainable development.

“Most of the side events are done by governments or non-profits,” Schreiber said. “We had to apply to the U.S. State Department for approval to do a side event and got the sense that university presentations are unique.”

Schreiber tapped Dan Garofalo, Penn’s environmental sustainability coordinator, to ensure their presentation was on target.

“Penn has a responsibility as a leader, to its students and as a neighbor in West Philadelphia,” Garofalo said, “but implementing change is not without challenges.  Penn must maintain student interest and be constantly vigilant to maintain our leadership position in environmental sustainability.

“Also, students are some of our most powerful advocates,” Garofalo said, noting the success of Penn’s Eco-reps and Green Fund programs.

The students undertook this project with the guidance of faculty advisor Stan Laskowski, an earth and environmental science professor.

While in Brazil, Schaart will blog for, a global student organization that works for sustainable economics and management. 

Schaart will be one of 10 students whose blogs will be available at this link