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Norfolk native recognized as outstanding educator

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A former Norfolk County man has received national recognition for environmental education.

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Robert VanWynsberghe has been honoured as one of the 2020 Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication (EECOM) award winners for being an outstanding post-secondary educator.

VanWynsberghe, a professor at the University of British Columbia, received the 2020 award of excellence after being nominated by three of his former students. He was one of the nine recipients this year.

EECOM is a national organization that brings together practitioners, scholars, communication professionals, and teachers in environmental education.

Four years ago, VanWynsberghe created a master’s program at UBC surrounding the topic of sustainability.

“It felt really nice, especially coming from former students,” he said during a video interview. “It’s not an area that fits easily into most universities in Canada, so it felt good because it helps the area of sustainability education get a little more recognition and hopefully it becomes a more mainstream part of the options that are available for the young people going into university or college.”

The professor also mentioned the pride of watching his students move on to positions of leadership in the sustainability field.

As the lead on creating the program, VanWynsberghe had to find the demand for sustainability education.

“I was interested in creating a program that had all kinds of people with different backgrounds,” he said.

He was offered the opportunity to run a pilot version of the program and discovered that there is a demand, not just from Canadians, but also from a large variety of international students.

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“Now I have students from Korea, the U.S., from South and Central America,” he said.

He is also the academic lead of a teacher education program in sustainability at UBC.

The scholar grew up in the Delhi area and moved to British Columbia around 23 years ago.

His dissertation focused on Walpole Island in the Sarnia area.

“From there I’ve done work with cities around Olympic Games and hosting them in a sustainable way,” he said. “I also do sustainable work with the city of Vancouver.”

Taking inspiration from his hometown, the professor hopes to study the connection between rural areas and nearby cities before he retires.

“I’d love to be part of a conversation about helping a small town make steps towards being a more sustainable and healthy place,” he said. “I’ve never had that opportunity, and that would be something I’d really like to do.

“These might be places where we’re going to have more people live because the cities might have to change in the face of things like pandemics and in terms of sustainability, I’m always thinking about how we can have a better relationship between cities and rural areas.”

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