Dr. Kim Smith presents on education for sustainable development

Rylee Neville, News Reporter

Last Tuesday, Oct. 29, Whitman alumnus Dr. Kim Smith presented her talk, titled “Education For Sustainable Development: The Future Depends On Us,” to students, faculty and community members.  

Smith graduated from Whitman with a B.A. in sociology in 1990. She then received a Ph.D. in sociology from Indiana University, focusing specifically on environmental sociology and social movements. Since 1996, Smith has taught sociology at Portland Community College.

Smith works closely with many nonprofits, remaining active in offering hope for a sustainable future through education, professional development and civic engagement. She defines herself as a “social movement activist.” 

Smith’s goal last Tuesday was to share the opportunities that we, as students, Whitman staff and faculty, and the broader Walla Walla community, have for creating a more sustainable future. 

In her talk, Smith used the United Nations 1987 definition of sustainable development, which reads: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Specifically, Smith talked about Agenda 2030, which, according to Smith, is an “aspirational vision and plan that thousands of people collaborated on for a equitable, sustainable and just future.” Agenda 2030 is a commitment to building a sustainable future, detailing how we can achieve sustainable development worldwide by 2030. Agenda 2030 has 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 169 targets and 240 indicators. 

“The goal is to increase collective impact. The issues we have are big and urgent, and require collaboration across sectors rather than competition,” Smith said in an interview with The Wire

Whitman senior Walter Tunnell Wilson attended the talk and had high praise for Smith’s presentation style. According to Tunnell Wilson, Smith gave good background on policy around environmental action and engaged the audience. 

“Dr. Smith was a very effective presenter because of her high energy, knowledge and experience with the subject she was presenting on, and also alertness and interaction with the audience,” Tunnell Wilson said. 

Tunnell Wilson also noticed how Smith emphasized that education plays a huge role in the goal of sustainability. 

“I think a major point of her talk, which really stood out to me, was how interdisciplinary the goals for sustainability are,” Tunnell Wilson said. “Education was especially emphasized.” 

Smith notes that Whitman, as a college, can be powerful in educating the public. 

“Whitman is part of formal education. But we [as Whitman students] are also a partner in increasing awareness about these issues,” Smith said.  

According to Dean of Students Kazi Joshua, one of the more prominent ideas in Smith’s speech was how a place like Whitman could be helpful in generating a sustainable future.

“[Smith has this] idea that educational institutions matter greatly in the project of sustainability and education,” Joshua said. 

Smith used specific examples that, according to Joshua, made her speech extremely effective. 

“I came away, saying: this can be done at Whitman and in Walla Walla,” Joshua said. 

Smith can see a momentum of social change growing. She encourages students to have hope and follow her teaching and learning motto:  “Educate, empower, engage.”

More information about Smith’s work at the Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network can be found at gpsen.org.