Having a Systems Thinking Mindset

By Connor Wiegel for SUST 350

When I was younger, my Mom had a nickname for me, which was “Speedy.” She called me that because growing up I would always rush to do certain things without thinking about them. Someone would ask me to run upstairs to get something and I’d be halfway up the stairs without even knowing what I was supposed to be looking for. I was just an impatient child and consequently I was known to make plenty of mistakes. I would never think about what I was doing and I would take the easy way out to finish a task.

I still remember that before I was allowed to play with my toys, I would always have to clean up my dinner first. One time, instead of walking to the trash can, I decided to toss my happy meal box and half-filled chocolate milk carton fifteen feet away from the trash can like I was a baseball player. I threw it without a hesitation and I still remember the look of disappointment on my mother’s face as my dogs rushed to lick up the chocolate milk dripping on the floor from the ceiling. I never thought about what I was doing or what was going to happen.

If I had taken the time to consider what my actions with a half empty milk carton was going to cause, though, I would have changed my decision. The process of thinking and analyzing a decision or action, the outside factors related to it, and the impact it will cause is called systems thinking. Daniel Lerch writes in The Community Resilience Reader (2017), “Systems thinking helps us understand the complex E4 crises [ecology, energy, economy, and equity] as well as how our complex societies and communities work” (p. 21).

Systems thinking is a way to problem solve while considering the complex system around that problem. For example, when a student cheats on a test, all they think about is if they cheat, they might get a good grade. They don’t think about the other factors that affect their decision, or the other potential consequences of that decision. The student doesn’t think about how they are cheating themselves out of learning the information and how by not learning the material now, they are putting themselves at a disadvantage later in life. Another way to picture systems thinking is to think about the inside of a clock. All of those mechanical parts work together to complete a job. If you take away even just one of those gears or leveers, the clock will not function the same, if at all. Systems thinking is evaluating situations while considering the outside factors that affect and are affected by the outcome of your decision. A single link in a chain would change the pattern. Every decision influences an outcome and to come to the decision you need to consider all of the elements surrounding the problem or job.

Systems thinking broadens your perspective on a situation. Open your mind to considering more than just what’s in front of you. A model to help understand this perspective is the Iceberg model. In the model you can see what you react to, but hidden underneath are all of the underlying factors surrounding the event.

Source: Ecochallenge.org

If you use mental models and systems thinking together in your day-to-day life, you are giving yourself a better opportunity for success. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any negatives to system thinking. Discussions in my SUST 350 Service and Sustainability class have pointed out that if you need to make a quick decision, systems thinking can take too long and may not be an option in an emergency. To be able to evaluate all of the underlying factors in a decision, it won’t be possible if you need to make a quick decision on your toes. That is why in a business or medical field you have teams who go through situations to set protocols so the best decision has been thought of in advance.

I believe systems thinking is a valuable tool that people should practice and learn. With the ability to dissect a situation in either your work or personal life, you will have the confidence that your decisions will have the best outcomes. If everyone just made their decisions in a split second and didn’t take the time for systems thinking, they might get away with the correct decision but most likely will create new problems to be solved. Systems thinking is an extremely useful tool that can be used to enhance your work and personal life.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). The Value of Systems Thinking. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fo3ndxVOZEo.

Ecochallenge. (n.d.). Iceberg Model  Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://ecochallenge.org/iceberg-model/.

Lerch, D. (2017). The Community Resilience Reader Essential Resources for an Era of Upheaval. Island Press/Center for Resource Economics.

Connor Wiegel is a senior accounting major at Roosevelt University where he plays on the men’s hockey team and serves as an alternate captain. This semester, Connor is volunteering at the PAWS animal shelter in Tinley Park IL for his SUST 350 service project.

Throughout the Fall 2021 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 350 Service & Sustainability class are blogging about their academic reflections in SUST 350 and/or their community service experiences in the Chicago region and beyond.

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Sustaining Environmental Justice in a Pandemic: Michael Howard Speaks to Resilience Studies Consortium, Tues 10/26

Mr. Michael Howard, CEO and co-founder of Eden Place Farms and Nature Center in Chicago IL, will address the Resilience Studies Consortium community on Tuesday, 26 Oct 2021, at 11am CST on the topic of “Sustaining Environmental Justice in a Pandemic.” Please join the faculty and students of SUST 350 Service & Sustainability at Roosevelt University and ENVS 397 Environmental Justice at Western Colorado University as they host Mr. Howard’s virtual presentation and a Q&A session.

Michael Howard’s life passion is to improve the quality of life for the citizens of the Fuller Park community on Chicago’s South Side, both financially and environmentally. As Founder and CEO of the Fuller Park Community Development (FPCD) organization in the 1990s, he has worked to address housing, education, and environmental issues that have kept this generally African American and low-income community in poverty and disrepair.

In the late 1990s, Michael and his wife Amelia Howard led the effort to clean up a three-acre vacant lot near their Fuller Park residence that was piled two stories high with illegally dumped waste. With help from many in the community, the site was cleared of debris and restored into a thriving green space called Eden Place — still the only nature center on the entire South Side of Chicago. In the early 2010s, Eden Place opened its farm operation about a half-mile south of the nature center. They host community events, market their produce to local restaurants and farmers markets, and provide ecology, urban farming, and nutrition workshops to citizens of Fuller Park and beyond.

Since 2014, students in Roosevelt University’s SUST 350 Service & Sustainability class have volunteered one morning a week in a multi-year service project at Eden Place, helping with farm chores, repairing and painting structures, building trails, planting and harvesting crops, and organizing events to support the organization’s mission. In return, Eden Place has taught them much about the process and importance of community organizing, the rigors of urban environmental conservation and farming, and the challenges of fostering sustainability and community resilience in this era of social and economic stress.

Zoom Login Info:

Topic: Michael Howard on Environmental Justice for RSC
Time: Oct 26, 2021 11:00 AM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://roosevelt.zoom.us/j/97714968242
Meeting ID: 977 1496 8242

For More Information:

Contact Mike Bryson (mbryson@roosevelt.edu), Professor & Director of Sustainability Studies, Roosevelt University

Posted in agriculture, community, conservation, ecology, education, events, food, presentations, Roosevelt, service, social justice | Leave a comment

Summer 2022 Course Preview for SUST 390 Rooftop Garden

SUST alumni & students on the WB Rooftop Garden during Service Day 2017. L to R: Moses Viveros, Diana Ramirez, Beeka Quesnell, & Maria Cancilla (photo: M. Bryson)

This coming summer semester (2022) the Sustainability Studies program will reprise our popular and innovative special topics course, SUST 390 Rooftop Garden, at the Chicago Campus. The class will utilize RU’s unique 5th-story rooftop garden on its LEED Gold-certified Wabash Building as a living classroom for a hands-on, place-based, get-your-hands-dirty learning experience.

  • Title/number: SUST 390 Rooftop Garden (section 10)
  • Semester offered: Summer 2022 (10 weeks from May 31 thru Aug 8)
  • Location: Chicago Campus
  • Day/time: Online learning commences 5/31, with garden workdays and field trips to selected urban farms/green rooftops in the Chicago region scheduled by the instructor according to students’ availability.
  • Pre-req: ENG 102

SUST majors and minors may take this class to fulfill an upper-level SUST 3xx requirement, but 390 also is open to students at large seeking an experiential learning course, needing a general education course, or desiring elective credit.

RU President Ali, staff, and students harvest greens from the WB Rooftop Garden during the #AmDreamConf service day, 15 Sept 2016 (photo: RU)

Course Theme: Rooftop Gardens, Campus Sustainability, and Urban Agriculture

Diana Ramirez (BA ’17) works the garden plots on the WB Rooftop Garden, July 2017 (photo: M. Viveros)

Gets your hands dirty in this ten-week hybrid course which focuses on the unique urban ecosystem, the green rooftop, and features work in and stewardship of the fifth-story Roosevelt University WB Rooftop Garden in downtown Chicago. Students will learn about the relationships among food, biodiversity, waste, urban agriculture, green space design, and campus sustainability leadership through multiple modes: reading, participating in online discussions, taking field trips, and working in the RU garden during the summer late spring / early summer planting and growing season.

Course requirements and activities include online interaction through Blackboard; participation in garden workdays as scheduled by the student and instructor; and field trips to other urban community gardens and farms, whether rooftop or street-level. Participation in this course constitutes a significant contribution to the sustainability of RU’s Chicago Campus, and helps our community make progress on our 2015-2020 Strategic Sustainability Plan.

Moses Viveros sowing seeds in the rooftop garden, August 2017 (D. Ramirez)

The RU Rooftop Garden in Chicago was started in the spring/summer of 2013, the first growing season after the opening on the Wabash Building in fall 2012. Since then, it has been funded and managed by the Department of Physical Resources, with work being done primarily by student interns and volunteers from the Sustainability Studies Program in the College of Arts & Sciences.

For questions and more details about this course, please contact Vicki Gerberich (vgerberich@roosevelt.edu), adjunct professor of Sustainability Studies; or Mike Bryson (mbryson@roosevelt.edu), professor & director of Sustainability Studies.

Maria Cancilla (BPS ’18), Prof. Vicki Gerberich, and Michelle Giles (SUST senior) during #AmDreamServiceDay 2018 (photo: M. Bryson)

Posted in agriculture, alumni, biodiversity, cities, courses, education, food, green design, Roosevelt, service, students | Leave a comment

Eden Place Farms Benefit Concert this Friday 10/15 in Fuller Park & Online

Poster design by Natalie Seitz

Dear lovers of good music and supporters of urban agriculture in Chicago: this Friday 10/15 at Eden Place Farms, local musicians Wyatt Waddell, Headed Home, and Julia Morrison will perform at 6:30pm in a livestreamed benefit concert. Located in the heart of the Fuller Park community at 4911 S. Shields Ave., Eden Place Farms is an iconic family-run urban farm on Chicago’s South Side.

To view the concert and support Eden Place, please make a donation at this link. After your donation, you will receive an email with a link for the livestream event. No donation is too small! If you prefer your live music in person, admission is free and donations are accepted/encouraged; just be sure to bring your mask and proof of vaccination. Doors open at 6pm at the Farm.

The story of Eden Place is as inspiring as it is improbable. Eden Place Nature Center was founded on the site of an illegal waste dump by community activists Michael and Amelia Howard, who built a Nature Center in the late 90s and established their Farm about 15 years later. Eden Place has been a longstanding community hub and green oasis in the Fuller Park neighborhood, and is seeking to raise money to help recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and continue its mission to provide fresh organic produce and environmental education to its community. Though it has experienced setbacks this past year, Eden Place is a resilient and high-impact institution known throughout the US and beyond for its urban conservation work here in Chicago.

Roosevelt University has deep ties to Eden Place, as well. Since 2014, RU students each fall semester have worked onsite at the Nature Center and Farm through Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 350 Service & Sustainability class. Students from all walks of life learn what it’s like to work on an urban farm and in return provide their labor and ideas to the staff at Eden Place in a process of reciprocal learning and cooperation. This summer of 2021, five student interns with the Mansfield Institute’s Fellowship for Activism and Community Engagement program have worked 10 hours per week at Eden Place helping to cultivate and harvest crops, build and repair structures, and work productively as a team. We in the Sustainability Studies program at RU are grateful to have Eden Place as a community partner and look forward to many more years of collaboration.

Thanks to the Roosevelt students of SUST 350 for helping organize this concert, and to everyone reading this for all for your past support of Eden Place! Please spread the word to everyone you know who appreciates healthy food and good music.

SUST 350 students help build a hoop house at Eden Place Farms, Fall 2019 (M. Bryson)
SUST 350 students harvest veggies, Sept 2021 (M. Bryson)
Posted in activities, agriculture, arts, events, food, service, students | 1 Comment

Course Preview of SUST 370 Mapping for Sustainability (Spring 2022)

jerome-b1-image-il-schl-gardens-pop-up.png

Interactive IL school garden map created with GIS by B. Jerome, 2019

The Sustainability Studies program will offer its unique course Mapping for Sustainability this coming Spring 2022 semester at Roosevelt U. This remote/F2F course will meet on Th from 2-4:30pm and be accessible to students anywhere — but students will also have the option to attend class sessions in person with the instructor at the Chicago Campus (room AUD 1015).

SUST 370 utilizes Geographic Information Science (GIS )software, which allows us to visualize data, ask questions, and conduct analysis so that we can better understand relationships and patterns in our world. A great example of GIS in action is the recent work by SUST alum Bria Jerome (BA ’19), who mapped school gardens across the state of IL as part of her Spring 2019 sustainability internship with Seven Generations Ahead.

Everything is geographical – literally everything happens somewhere. This means that GIS is used in every field, from businesses trying to figure out the best new location for a new store, to public health officials trying to identify patterns in the spreading of disease, to conservationists looking to map critical resources for protection. And of course, many of the apps on your smart phone are using and producing geographic data that help us in our daily lives! Perhaps most importantly for RU students, job growth for folks with GIS skills is predicted to be higher than the national average.

Students in the course will be exposed to the rapidly growing world of spatial analysis and cartography using the industry’s leading software tool, ArcGIS. Through a combination of lecture and hands-on work with GIS software, you’ll learn

  • about the types of geographic data and the theories underlying GIS
  • the principles of cartography (scale, resolution, projection, etc)
  • how to store, analyze and interpret spatial data
  • how to make maps
  • how to apply GIS to create apps

Because this is a course in the Sustainability Studies program, the majority of our GIS applications will focus on environmental and social questions. However, students will have the opportunity to develop their own GIS projects, so students from all majors are welcome in the course.

As an example of how GIS works, consider the following image:

Snip20180215_58.png

Data from different sources (layers) can be combined so that specific questions can be asked about their relationships. Let’s say we wanted to identify a suitable location for a new park in the city of Los Angeles. We could combine data about population characteristics, land use, and the presence of toxic releases and then use GIS analysis tools to refine our search. Consider the image below, which shows a screenshot from an ArcGIS project on ESRI’s website that deals with this question:

Snip20180215_57

The green squares indicate places where a park would serve an underprivileged area using vacant land that is far from toxic releases. The ability to inform land use decision-making is just one of the many useful applications of GIS that we will engage with in the course.

Course Registration Information

  • Title/number: SUST 370 Mapping for Sustainability (section 01)
  • Delivery mode: Face-to-Face and Remote
  • Instructor: Prof. Vicki Gerberich (vgerberich@roosevelt.edu)
  • Semester offered: Spring 2022
  • Location: AUD 1015 and Remote (Bb and Zoom)
  • Day/time: Thursday 2-4:30pm
  • Start date: 18 Jan 2021
  • Pre-req: Undergraduate level ENG 102 Minimum Grade of C-
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SUST Alum Yessenia Balcazar (BA ’18) Gives Urban Planning Talk on Tues 10/5

Yessenia Balcazar (BA ’18)

Please join the faculty and students of SUST 320 Sprawl, Transportation, and Planning as they host a special guest lecture next Tuesday 10/5 by RU alum Yessenia Balcazar (BA ’18 in Sustainability Studies) on Zoom at 2pm CST. The title of her talk is “Community Empowerment and Urban Planning in an Era of Social Justice Fatigue.” After her presentation, there will be ample opportunity for questions and discussion.

During her time at Roosevelt, Yessenia was a very active student in a variety of capacities. In her first year, she participated in the Fall 2014 planning sessions for RU’s first Sustainability Strategic Plan, and then was a member of the inaugural SUST 390 Sustainable Campus class that did the research for RU’s first comprehensive STARS campus sustainability assessment. (Yes, this was all in her first year.) She was a member of the student environmental organization RU Green and in her junior year became its president. Among their many projects under her leadership was researching and advocating for Roosevelt to become a Fair Trade university. In 2017, she became RU’s first student intern with the Southeast Environmental Task Force and continued that work after graduation on the front lines of the environmental justice movement on Chicago’s Far South Side as SETF’s Bryant Williams fellow. In 2019 she earned a scholarship to attend UIC’s Master of Urban Planning and Policy and graduated in May 2021.

Yessenia currently works as a Teaching Assistant at UIC and intern at the Chicago Department of Aviation while pursuing environmental justice advocacy in her home community on Chicago’s East Side. We are proud to welcome her back to RU and looking forward to her presentation on her community-based work and urban planning experiences and aspirations.

The RU Community is warmly invited to attend Yessenia’s talk on Tuesday 10/5 @2pm CST. Please RSVP to Prof. Mike Bryson, Chair of Sociology & Sustainability (mbryson@roosevelt.edu).

Zoom link: https://roosevelt.zoom.us/j/94557770040

Posted in activities, alumni, events, planning, policy, Roosevelt, social justice, students | 1 Comment

Save an Urban Farm through Music!

Dear lovers of good music and delicious food: this Friday 9/24 in Chicago there’s gonna be another good old-fashioned music jam down on the farm, but with a 21st century / urban / pandemic-era twist. South Side band Blended Soul and the Original 64th Street Drummers will perform from 6-8pm in a livestreamed benefit concert for Eden Place Farms, an iconic family-run urban farm on Chicago’s South Side. To view the concert and support Eden Place, please make a donation at this link. If you donate, you will receive a link on Friday AM for the livestream event. No donation is too small!

Eden Place was founded on the site of an illegal waste dump by community activists Michael and Amelia Howard, who built a Nature Center in the late 90s and established their Farm about 15 years later. Eden Place has been a longstanding community hub and green oasis in the Fuller Park neighborhood, and is seeking to raise $50,000 to aid in its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and continue its mission to provide fresh organic produce and environmental education to its community. Though it has experienced setbacks this past year, Eden Place is a resilient and high-impact institution known throughout the US and beyond for its urban conservation work here in Chicago.

Roosevelt University has deep ties to Eden Place, as well. Since 2014, RU students each fall semester have worked onsite at the Nature Center and Farm through Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 350 Service & Sustainability class. Students from all walks of life learn what it’s like to work on an urban farm and in return provide their labor and ideas to the staff at Eden Place in a process of reciprocal learning and cooperation. This summer of 2021, five student interns with the Mansfield Institute’s Fellowship for Activism and Community Engagement program have worked 10 hours per week at Eden Place helping to cultivate and harvest crops, build and repair structures, and work productively as a team. We in the Sustainability Studies program at RU are grateful to have Eden Place as a community partner and look forward to many more years of collaboration.

Thanks to all for your support of Eden Place! Please spread the word to everyone you know who appreciates healthy food and good music.

SUST 350 students help build a hoop house at Eden Place Farms, Fall 2019 (M. Bryson)
SUST 350 students and Eden Place staff, December 2019 (M. Bryson)
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We’re Still Hiring! Sustainability Student Associate Positions for Fall 2021 @RooseveltU

The Sustainability Studies Program @RooseveltU is hiring up to three undergraduate students to work as Sustainability Student Associates for the Fall 2021 semester. Information and application instructions for this position can be found on Student Employment website: to apply, just login to the Handshake job posting system and upload your letter of interest, résumé, and writing sample. These positions are funded by the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program as well as Testa Produce; FWS and non-FWS eligible students are therefore welcome to apply.

The application deadline as been extended to Friday 10/08/21 and interviews will be conducted the following week via Zoom. Applications will be reviewed as they are received. A cover letter, updated résumé, and writing sample (which can be paper written for an RU class) are required for the application. Note your FWS eligibility status in your cover letter.

Applicants should explain their interest in advancing campus sustainability as well as highlight their prior knowledge about and/or skills in relevant sustainability issues and practices (e.g., recycling, gardening, event planning, data analysis, student outreach, etc.)

Desired Majors: Sustainability Studies, Sociology, or Biology preferred; however, all majors will be considered.

Required Skills/Knowledge: Knowledge of and interest in sustainability; strong writing/editing skills; effective communication skills; dependability and strong work ethic.

Scope of Duties: These $15/hour FWS student positions will work at the Chicago Campus as well as remotely to support the mission, pedagogy, and service work of the SUST Program at Roosevelt by the following (other duties as assigned):

  • developing & supporting campus sustainability projects in consultation with the program director, department faculty, operations and planning staff, and the RU Green student organization;
  • providing logistical and communication support for sustainability-related activities, events, and projects, both on- and off-campus;
  • supporting student experiential learning, recruitment, retention, & career development efforts;
  • coordinating & promoting departmental events & campus outreach (e.g., Campus Sustainability Month [October], SUST Symposia, & Earth Month);
  • performing current student and alumni outreach;
  • serving as the primary student liaison between the SUST Program and the university community in the advancement of RU’s 2015-2020 Strategic Sustainability Plan;
  • managing the Roosevelt Urban Sustainability Lab (RUSLab) & WB Rooftop Garden

Student Associates will work closely with the SUST Program Director, Prof. Mike Bryson, and utilize the Roosevelt Urban Sustainability Lab at the Chicago Campus as their home base. Funding for the position is provided by federal work-study funds.

Please email Prof. Bryson (mbryson@roosevelt.edu) for questions about the position or application process.

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Prairie Lovers, Apply Now for the Nature Conservancy’s Hubbard Fellowship

The Nature Conservancy of Nebraska is proud to host The Claire M. Hubbard Young Leaders in Conservation Fellowship Program – a one-year program for selected recent college graduates in conservation-related fields. It is designed to provide a comprehensive set of experiences working with a conservation organization and bridge the gap between school and career. Fellows are housed at The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies Preserve near Wood River, Nebraska. Click here to see our brochure with more detailed information on the program and application guidelines.  The current job description can be viewed here and also at nature.org/careers.

The application period for the next round of the Fellowship (February 2021 – January 2022) IS NOW OPEN.  Applications will be due October 1, 2021.

Hubbard Fellows Mary Parr and Chelsea Forehead prepare for a prescribed fire in the Nebraska Sandhills. Fellows receive training and experience with prescribed fire, as well as many other land management and restoration practices. (photo: C. Helzer, The Prairie Ecologist)

More information, including a cool video made by past Hubbard Fellows explaining what the fellowship work entails, is here on the Prairie Ecologist blog. A great opportunity for a recent RU grad interested in prairie ecology and/or environmental restoration/conservation!

Posted in alumni, biodiversity, conservation, ecology, fellowships, restoration, science, students | 1 Comment

Kicking Off the Fall Semester, Down on the Farm

Welcome back to @RooseveltU, students and faculty! Here in the Sustainability Studies program, we’ve got several experiential learning (EXL) courses going, both F2F and online. One of these is SUST 350 Service & Sustainability, in which students complete a 10-week service project of 2-3 hours/week that contributes in some way to their community’s sustainability and/or resilience.

One group of students in SUST 350 is volunteering each Tuesday morning at Eden Place Farms, an urban farm in the South Side neighborhood of Fuller Park. Here are some photos from last week’s workday, which marked the 7th fall RU students have worked at Eden Place.

Harvesting tomatoes and zucchini @Eden Place Farms (photo: M. Bryson, 2021)
Talking with Mr. Michael Howard, co-founder and executive director of Eden Place (photo: M. Bryson, 2021)
Displaying our morning’s harvest: good work, Eden Place team! (photo: M. Bryson, 2021)

Later this semester, students in SUST 350 will publish short essays here on the SUST @ RU blog about their service projects and various urban sustainability topics. Stay tuned for these and other posts about our work at Eden Place this fall!

Posted in agriculture, community, courses, food, Roosevelt, service, students | 1 Comment