Embedding research in the sustainable city

Grad students team up with municipal mentors on real-world challenges in Sustainability Scholars program.


When Marni Devlin Moses took a big plunge, shifting away from health science to pursue her MBA, she wasn’t sure what kind of career she would land with her unorthodox education. So last year, she signed up for a new program promising to prove her talents in a real-world arena. She ended up paving the way to her new career while also laying groundwork for Edmonton’s green energy future.

The program was Sustainability Scholars, a professional development program that provides University of Alberta graduate students with $5,000 to work with a mentor at the City of Edmonton—and for the first time this year, at UAlberta.

“The program was an opportunity to use some of my academic skills in a real-world setting,” says Devlin Moses, who completed a project mapping Edmonton’s residential energy consumption. “It also gave me the chance to network with a lot of people, to think about what I wanted to do with my career and how to get the career I want.”

Naomi Krogman, director of sustainability scholarship and education, says the other five graduate students in the program’s pilot year echo Devlin Moses, saying they’ve already experienced big professional boosts from the experience.

“In some cases, their reports are actively being used right now to shape city decisions and actions. In another case, the student published an academic paper alongside his mentor,” Krogman says.

Along with honing their academic chops, the projects also provide opportunities for grad students to develop non-academic skills that are essential for succeeding as they enter the job market.

“Sustainability Scholars helped me look at my research question from a different perspective,” says Alireza Talaei, a PhD student in engineering management. “In academia, I was taught to pay attention to the details, but the work at the city taught me to look at the bigger picture when solving real-world problems.”

Applications open until January 25

Sustainability Scholars projects are designed to help achieve long-term goals in the city’s The Way We Green environmental strategic plan, as well as goals in the university’s draft Sustainability Plan.

As the program begins recruiting for its second cohort, Sustainability Scholars is improving in several ways. There will now be 14 applied research projects with the city and up to four with UAlberta. Projects covering issues of social and economic sustainability will be offered alongside environmental projects.

“We’re also making the program better by adding in more professional development training, such as project management, and we’re going to do more mentorship training before the program begins,” says Krogman.

Krogman urges all graduate students curious about applying their knowledge to a sustainable future to apply for Sustainability Scholars.

“This is a unique opportunity for anyone willing to imagine their degree in a way that really furthers the collective good.”

Learn more or apply to Sustainability Scholars

With files from Kateryna Barnes