By Grace Reilein.
Dr. Miriam Wyman works within the Academic Sustainability Program at Auburn, working as the primary instructor of the Introduction to Sustainability and Sustainability Capstone classes. Dr. Wyman’s years of experience with sustainability studies both in an academic setting and in the field have equipped her to provide students at Auburn University with knowledge and awareness of sustainable practices that would have otherwise been left out. She believes that universities and colleges play an important role in preparing students to meet challenges we all face, and these classes engage students to understand the interconnectedness of the three main systems in sustainability: environment, society, and economics.
Leading up to her career at Auburn, Dr. Wyman received her B.S. in Environmental Sciences. Between earning her BS and Masters, she held several jobs that piqued her passion in sustainability. She first worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Minneapolis as a community organizer for mobile home park residents. There, she worked to protect residents’ rights and to improve living conditions. She also spent six months volunteering on an animal ecology project in southern Chile located in Torres del Paine National Park. In Chile, she spent her time working with an animal called a guanaco. She was also the co-director of a Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). She worked within an environmental and consumer watchdog group in Minneapolis, working door-to-door raising membership for groups such as the Sierra Club and the Human Rights Campaign and educating residents on local issues. This was an eye-opening experience because she realized that the PIRG’s work was up against large corporations and big money. She realized her group could only really compete against big money by having strength in numbers and showing policymakers there are thousands of constituents favoring policy changes.
Following her time in Minneapolis, Dr. Wyman spent eight months living on a kibbutz in Israel: a collective community, primarily agricultural, with a collaborative, communal environment. This raised her awareness of access issues in America to healthcare and nutritious food. Dr. Wyman took these lessons and ways of life with her as they piqued an interest in changing our society to have more equity and environmental awareness. She returned to school and earned a M.S. in Natural Resource Management with a focus on Environmental Education and Interpretation and then earned a Ph.D. in Forest Resources and Conservation.
Both Dr. Wyman’s Master’s and Ph.D. included a focus on ecotourism and sustainable tourism. She worked with a small Mayan community that wanted to develop community-based ecotourism. This community is located near an archaeological tourism site in Southern Mexico, so there was need for an ecotourism management plan to look for funders to support this community and its sustainable tourism endeavors. While completing her Ph.D., Dr. Wyman worked with a baboon sanctuary in Belize. She looked at how nature-based tourism has protected important forest cover and if it has benefitted residents. Dr. Wyman worked with tourism aspects in protected areas that must abide by certain criteria, such as hiring a certain percentage of local residents and what they do with waste. She also worked in some short-term consultancies looking at best practices for tourism concessions in protected areas, working with Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund Brazil, and International Finance Corporation Nepal.
All these combined experiences with sustainability issues around the world give Dr. Wyman a unique and well-rounded perspective from which to educate her students. Her sustainability classes make a difference and are often eye-opening to her students. These classes introduce students to the impact of things like bottled water, food waste, and. policy changes. For some students, these sustainability courses become their favorite classes. In her Sustainability Capstone class, students participate in semester-long projects with the goal of connecting with sustainability on campus and in the greater Auburn community. Dr. Wyman believes there is a strong culture of collaboration at Auburn which fosters engagement between students and the Auburn community. She stated that she has learned a lot from working with colleagues on campus and these collaborations have made her a better and more effective educator.
When asked about the opportunity for positive change to come to Auburn University, Dr. Wyman believes there is a lot of opportunity for change because of this collaborative culture. Faculty and students passionate about sustainability have many outlets and areas for collaboration where they can drive changes on campus and in the greater community. The relationship and collaboration between the Office of Sustainability and the Academic Sustainability Office has allowed both offices to develop programs that complement each other. On Auburn’s campus, Dr. Wyman sees multiple sustainable endeavors on campus that emphasize the potential that Auburn University holds to become more sustainable. These projects include the new digester composter, the building of a new nutrition resource center, and the closed system of aquaponics and fish waste growing vegetables used in dining halls on campus. Dr. Wyman believes there are constantly new opportunities and new ways of thinking about things that will continue to drive change and move the Auburn community forward.
Post contributed by Grace Reilein, Program Coordinator, Office of Sustainability