Ridge View Residential College takes positive action for climate change
Amid callings for action and commitments by the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) as well as Clean and Green Singapore, the NUS Ridge View Residential College (RVRC) is blazing the trail with its interdisciplinary approach to fostering sustainability education and environmental stewardship.
NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye visited the College on 6 Nov and was hosted to a walkabout of the College grounds by RVRC College Master Associate Professor Greg Dean Petersen as well as RVRC staff and students, to get a first-hand feel of how the College uses its green spaces to provide students with immersive learning experiences.
The College, established since 2014, believes that students should be introduced and exposed to the global and local spectrum of sustainability challenges. This is implemented through RVRC’s academic modules, staff-led co-curricular activities and student-led interest groups.
RVRC’s sustainability education is characterised by experiential learning, both within and beyond the classroom, with students signing-up to lead sustainability initiatives, and in so doing, influencing others around them as well, explained Prof Petersen.
Prof Tan was introduced to RVRC’s forest restoration efforts at Chestnut Nature Park (CNP) which serves as a green buffer to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. The work of student interest group RV FoRestore, carried out under the Friends of CNP community initiative in partnership with the National Parks Board (NParks), was also showcased.
Regenerating the forests
Since the opening of CNP four years ago, RVRC has partnered NParks to regenerate the secondary forest within the Park using a science-based approach, through the sustained planting of native tree species over a 10-year period as part of NParks’ Forest Restoration Action Plan. Not only is forest restoration a nature-based climate solution to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, it will also strengthen the resilience of Singapore’s forest landscapes to climate change, and is in line with the movement to plant a million more trees across the island under the City in Nature pillar of the Singapore Green Plan 2030.
Led by RVRC Director of Studies Mr N Sivasothi with RVRC Lecturer Dr Chua Siew Chin as forest ecologist advising on the restoration of degraded forests, students from different disciplines are initiated into CNP’s reforestation efforts. Student interest group RV FoRestore adopts and cares for experimental forest restoration plots in CNP, and engages with RVRC residents, NUS students as well as members of the public to recruit volunteers for tree planting and maintenance work at the plots.
A nursery has also been set up within the College to collect and grow native tree species. The students propagate the native species from seedlings salvaged from Kent Ridge forest behind the College, as well as from stem cuttings of native trees such as the Ficus, which they will then nurture into saplings to be replanted back into the restoration plots at CNP eventually.
“Forest restoration work takes time and effort. It’s not just about planting trees, we have also been consistently going back to our reforestation plots at CNP to conduct maintenance work, like weeding, and to monitor the growth of the trees annually,” explained RV FoRestore member Lim Yi He (Year 3, Life Science).
“Like how a forest is not made up of a single tree, forest restoration work is not a one-man job,” she added.
Asked what she finds most satisfying of the entire experience, she said, “Seeing the trees we planted and monitored through the years do well. Some of them have even started flowering and fruiting already!”
RVRC has helped plant about 400 trees at CNP since the start of the initiative in 2018, while the interest group has continued to reach out to a wider audience. Among other events, it has participated in and supported an annual Forest Restoration Workshop co-organised by RVRC and NParks for three years running, and from June to August this year, hosted a series of online talks by academics on Ecosystem Restoration in Singapore in support of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.
Towards food security
Prof Tan also visited an edible garden within the College, and viewed the students’ photo essay on sustaining Singapore’s hawker culture as part of the module, RVSS1002 Feeding the Belly of a Nation. This is an example of how the College has taken the best elements of its sustainability education over the last seven years, and incorporated them into the new NUS enhanced General Education curriculum.
Included as part of the module is an edible garden initiative to allow students to have first-hand experience in growing their own food and through this experience, gain a deeper understanding and appreciation about food security issues in Singapore under the Singapore Green Plan 2030. The module, offered under the Singapore Studies Pillar, blends in classroom discussion, fieldtrips and engagement with practitioners in Singapore’s agriculture and hawker food trade, and culminates in students showcasing an aspect of Singapore’s food culture through a photo essay.
Said Year 2 Business student, Karan Bhatia, “This module has been beneficial for me. It was helped me break some preconceived notions I had in my mind. It also helped me learn more about the food we eat on a day-to-day basis and appreciate it more. Overall, it gave me a holistic understanding about how food is made, consumed and even how food is viewed in Singapore, which all made for a very fulfilling module experience.”
Prof Tan noted that Residential Colleges and Halls are excellent platforms to leverage the different talents and expertise from within, while harnessing the energy and passion of its students to take the lead in sustainability interventions. He also observed that Halls and Colleges are like living labs, and more experimentation on their own grounds should be encouraged.
“We need to infuse in our students that interest in experimenting, in being curious, in pushing the boundaries, in doing something different. This will impact not just on the way students work in future, but also on sustainability solutions that will come when they are in the position to make or influence changes,” he said.
It would be a powerful step forward if RVRC could influence the rest of the NUS community towards making substantial contributions towards sustainability, he added.
By the NUS Office of Environmental Sustainability