Each year, a group of RMIT environmental students visit Vietnam as part of an innovative experiential study program.
Designed to replicate a professional consultancy practice, the Environmental Sustainability Research Project enables final-year students to apply their knowledge to an environmental issue from a range of perspectives.
Working in a multi-disciplinary team, students from the environmental science, environmental engineering and environmental (social science) programs at RMIT spend an intensive two weeks collecting and analysing data before presenting a draft report to the project’s sponsors and key local authorities.
Associate Professor Barry Meehan from the School of Science has coordinated the annual project since 2002.
“The project has three main components: the selection of students and planning in Melbourne; data collection in Vietnam; and reporting on the project to clients in Vietnam,” Professor Meehan said.
“Students see first-hand how environmental issues impact cities and communities, and have the chance to make a contribution to research on a real environmental issue in Vietnam.”
Students also practice professional skills such as project planning and management, research and data collection, presentation and public speaking, group facilitation and report writing.
“Creating and sustaining a healthy team environment was crucial to our project’s success,” Bachelor of Environmental Science student, Dan Chamberlain said.
“Having learnt the tools for effective teamwork through the specialised course content, we immediately set about cultivating an environment where each team member felt included and comfortable sharing their ideas.
“Being a multi-disciplinary team, we each had a unique set of skills, knowledge and experience to contribute and it was by harnessing the power of our differences that we were able to overcome each obstacle,” he said.
During their spare time, students are encouraged to explore Vietnam – visiting market places and finding new places to eat. They also participate in organised tours of other villages that are dealing with sustainability issues relevant to their studies.
A range of environmental topics have been investigated; from the municipal solid waste system in Ho Chi Minh City to water resources management in the Hanoi region.
“The highlight of participating in the Vietnam Project was the opportunity to travel and work alongside fellow students to investigate pollution and land contamination caused by traditional craft villages,” Bachelor of Environmental Science student, Lucinda Trickey said.
“This experience allowed us to use the knowledge gained during our studies at RMIT and apply them to a real life issue that is facing the Vietnamese people.”
“Our team visited a craft village located in Ben Tre that focused on the utilisation of coconuts.
“The village ensured that all parts of the coconut plant were used to prevent waste and increase profit.
“It was remarkable to see such a sustainable village in a developing country,” she said.
Australian and Vietnamese environmental researchers and consultants have applauded the project, with some using the student reports as resource documents. The reports have provided valuable data for a number of resource management projects in the Mekong region.