Seeing the forest for the trees

Hayley Carlson, one of 267 ALES students who are graduating this term, ponders her Wall of Knowledge, which she worked on and woke up to every morning for the last two years of her undergraduate degree.
Hayley Carlson makes no bones about it. She wants to save the world. So much so that the very first thing she saw every morning she woke up during the last two years of her undergraduate degree was a collection of big and small whiteboards and papers she stuck on her ceiling and wall.

She called it her ‘How-to-save-the-world Wall of Knowledge.’

While Carlson was in high school, her science teacher would read articles to the class about different environmental issues such as the depletion of the ozone or the extinction of different species. And then… nothing. No discussion, no way of putting the information in context, no way of making the world a better place. She was left with a sense of powerlessness. So she got mad.

She decided to study environmental issues but realized that no one discipline had all the answers.

“Problems are natural, biological, sociological, economic and political. Solutions require an inter-disciplinary approach,” she said.

The program which offered the most comprehensive approach to environmental issues she was interested in was Human Dimensions of Environmental Management. Offered by the Faculty of ALES, the program leads to a BSc in Environmental and Conservation Sciences, which Carlson will earn this term.

In 2nd year, she realized she hadn’t gotten any closer to her goal of protecting the environment so the following year, she started what her Wall of Knowledge. “Sociology, economics, science, they all tell you different things. I wanted a way to see the big picture,” she explained.

Carlson, who volunteered at Sustain SU and sang in the UAlberta mixed choir, started writing down ideas that she heard in classes and from different speakers and videos. In fourth year, the wall became more structured.

The centre of the wall, a big whiteboard, shows solutions at the institutional level as well as the community and individual levels. A series of surrounding smaller whiteboard and papers examines the problems contributing to environmental degradation.

“It really did help me see the big picture,” she said. “I’m a determined person by nature but the wall helped me keep focussed. I felt strongly about it being the first thing I saw.”

The wall was also a creative outlet for Carlson. While viewing the wall upon waking up every day might be too much pressure for most people, for Carlson, it also helped her relax about ‘smaller’ issues and keep things in perspective.

“It helped make (the degree I’m about to receive) my own,” she explains.

Carlson will be one of 267 ALES students to receive their degrees at convocation this Wednesday (June 12). She plans to pursue a masters in public administration in her home province of Saskatchewan, next September and afterwards, work in government to acquire some experience and then perhaps work for a non-governmental organization or in industry.

“It doesn’t matter where I work,” she says, “as long as I have the opportunity to search for comprehensive, realistic solutions to save the world!”