LIMELIGHT INTERVIEW WITH BEE GAN
How Can We Do Better?
Bee Gan discusses her current position at Sheffield Hallam University as well as her current projects and the passion she holds for climate change activism and carbon literacy.
“How do you do better?” Bee Gan asks as she discusses the steps she is taking to increase carbon literacy among the students at Sheffield Hallam University. “How can I motivate young people to do more?” These are the questions that Bee chooses to live her life by and build her career through.
Driven by her passion to inspire people and in turn create a ripple of change, Bee holds the position of Head of Global Academic Development at Sheffield Hallam University after working there for almost 17 years. She is piloting Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), a program she founded in an attempt to raise awareness of the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities and to work on climate action projects where students can apply [carbon literacy] in their own sector.
Students in this program are being asked to analyze data and advise on potential action/actions the University could take (or is currently undertaking) to meet its Climate Action Strategy target of net zero carbon by 2030. Allowing students the creative and academic liberty to establish their own solutions and suggestions surrounding climate action in their university is a refreshing tactic. Giving the power to the students is perhaps one of the most effective and empowering ways to encourage healthy learning and creative solutions.
“At the moment we do it as an extracurricular,” Bee explains, “Only a small percentage of young people are willing to go the extra mile. I don’t know how to reach or inspire them?” She is actively searching for solutions to this struggle such as interdisciplinary learning. “I am kind of a champion that multidisciplinary work is so important for students. I see this as a golden opportunity.”
Through all of these steps to encourage inspiration in the minds of her students surrounding carbon literacy, Bee is also an active voice in international education which has pushed her to search for more solutions surrounding internationalization and its relationship to climate change. “You can’t stop people from traveling,” she says, “People are what make the places I visit interesting… That human contact is not going to be replaced. Yes, we are creating a lot of carbon but there are actions we can take to reduce it in the future.”
This passion for reducing our carbon footprint partnered with her own love for travel is what makes Bee such an inspiring person to talk to. Surrounding her role in the Climate Literacy Project, she suggests that companies as well as her own establishment “need to look at the technology that you want to develop.” She believes that a bigger push for green technology while continuing to grow their economy can heavily benefit these institutions and help balance the harm caused by traveling. She encourages staff to use COIL and thinks there is more that we can do to better internationalization at home, for example, a push for bettering online education and support.
“COVID-19 has been positive in making us take this action,” she explains, “Even though we talk about digitizing, it's a very slow process. But COVID came and we had no choice and our IT support is getting better…” Being able to see the environmental advantages of technology improvement through a pandemic is proof of the ability Bee has to search for creative solutions rather than cower at a challenge.
More than that, Bee takes her love of problem solving and helping people find solutions and applies it to areas of her life separate from work. She currently volunteers for an organization called GoodGym that helps people get fit by doing good. The community group runs, walks and cycles to help local community organizations and isolated older people by doing practical tasks. Before COVID-19, Bee regularly ran to see an isolated older person for a chat and ran home. GoodGym calls the older people they visit coaches because they help motivate them to run and they share their wisdom. It’s amazing what you can learn from your coach. “Being part of an engaging community gives me a sense of belonging, doing good deeds, helping your local community makes us happier and healthier,” she says.
Bee brings that responsibility to all areas of her life. She faces challenges every day from a global perspective, choosing to remain focused on finding solutions. She also tackles her job from a different perspective than some of her predecessors and coworkers. Because of who I am and my background, it gave me a different perspective working here because I see things slightly differently than other people because of where I am from,” she explains.
Being a woman of color in the international education field, she believes that “Thinking differently is allowing me to progress because I’m doing something slightly different that makes people stop and think ‘Oh, We’ve never done it this way…That’s why I think diversity is very important because if you train all your staff the same, then you continue to do the same thing. As Matthew Syed said, "Diversity, in a real sense, is the hidden engine of humanity."
Disruption is perhaps the single most accurate word to describe Bee Gan and her achievements. She somehow simultaneously focuses on the power she holds as an individual while focusing on the bigger picture at all times.
“Climate change is everyone's agenda,“ Bee notes, “If we put everyone together, they could find more creative solutions.” Bee does not look at a problem and see a barrier… She sees an opportunity. Turning problems into a challenge rather than an ending is one of the bravest things someone can do, especially when faced with a problem as great as Climate Change. Much of the rhetoric surrounding climate change and the fate of our Earth is demoralizing... People see a problem so big and seem to lose faith in the power held by an individual. Sitting down with Bee Gan for even less than five minutes allows anyone to see the ripples that one person’s passion and hopefulness can have no matter the size of the issue they are tackling.
- Interview by Global Leadership League member and volunteer, Sabrina Vitale
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