A webinar was held for the presentations of the projects which celebrated real-life learning in higher education.
Text Jenni Hopeela & Varpu Somersalo
The first pilot student challenges under the projects AgriSCALE and PBL-BioAfrica have now come to an end. University staff, students, and representatives from client organizations gathered to share the lessons learnt, results and experiences. The aim of the meeting was to inspire and encourage companies, staff and students for further collaboration, as well as to discuss the potential of real-life learning in producing problem solvers of tomorrow.
The student challenges were prepared in collaboration with Nakuru Living Lab and Real IPM in Kenya, WeWorld in Italy, BioGas in Uganda, and Steam’n Heat in Finland. The meeting was held on 14th December 2021.
Five student challenges aimed at researching economically, socially and environmentally sustainable business models
The webinar of the results was a success; more than 60 participants from around the world took part. Five student challenges were presented by students from different partner institutions. All challenges have aimed at researching economically, socially and environmentally sustainable business models in the fields of bioeconomy and finding profitable solutions to enhance circular economy.
The challenges presented were:
Sustainable BioWaste Management, Egerton University, KENYA
Sustainable Pesticide Use, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, KENYA
Ensuring Inclusive and Sustainable Social Prosperity, University of Pavia, ITALY
Biogas, Bishop Stuart University, UGANDA
Solid Waste Management, University of Zambia and Mulungushi University, ZAMBIA
BioWaste Management team from Egerton University were working closely with farmers to understand the real-life circumstances of farming.
“Working with farmers was very interesting. We came to learn a lot from them, and they came to learn a lot from us. We have a lot of practices, and they have a lot of experience”, notes Mr Fahad Luttah Juma, student at Egerton University.
The key learnings of the project were that farmers are faced with many challenges whose solutions are available in the university ecosystem. Farmers are also willing to accept sustainable agriculture provided they can improve their farming methods and results.
For many students this was the first time they were engaging with real-life farmers. Communicating with them and the community raised their interest towards career in bioeconomy and agriculture.
The project resulted in a report for helping to implement future real-life student challenges among Egerton students as well as a handbook in Organic Fertilizer Production.
Sustainable Pesticide Use team from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) studied the extent of use of Bio-pesticides in Kenya. They wanted to find out what are the main challenges associated with the production, distribution and use of Bio-pesticides as well as their mitigation measures.
During this process they got to know what is going on in the industry real-life:
“This was a good opportunity for the students to learn what is happening in the industry”, says Ms Ruth Murunde from Real IPM.
Based on the positive impact of this experience they are eager to take part in these challenges in the future.
“We look forward for more Students Challenges. Bring back to class what they have learned in the industry”, notes ProfLosenge Turoop, JKUAT, mentor of the student challenge.
Ensuring Inclusive and Sustainable Social Prosperity team from University of Pavia (UNIPV) found out in their project that communication with stakeholders needs improving. Governments are involved but the local communities are sometimes left out. Many plans are focused on state and national level, while there is little action at community level.
By working together it’s possible to tackle this challenge and the benefit of co-operation is seen by the team too.
“We really value the strategic and academic partnerships.”, says Pedro from WeWorld.
Biogas team from Bishop Stuart University were innovating and testing on how to make and commercially produce bio-organic fertilizer. They were working side by side with farmers and made uplifting discoveries.
“We selected some vegetables where we tested this (bio-organic) fertilizer and we realized that it is really performing best”, states Victor Ninsiima, a student from BSU.
Further trainings, both virtually and physically, are needed for the students and farmers. This will lead to better entrepreneurship skills and create jobs.
Solid Waste Management team from University of Zambia and Mulungushi gained a lot from the student challenge. The feedback they received from clients, mentors and students was positive.
Augustine, a student from the team, says: “We learned leadership, communication, collaboration, team building skills, researching techniques, time management”.
“Problem-based learning is a student-centered approach in which students take an active role in their own learning”, explained Ms Teija Lehtonen, Senior Advisor at Häme University of Applied Sciences and Moderator of the meeting. Students have worked in cross-cultural teams and the learning through real-life challenges aims to equip them with work-life relevant skills and competences.
Overall results and the mood in all these piloting Student Challenges was enthusiastic and positive. Participants were inspired and saw the benefits and potential of collaboration in all levels. This shines a bright light for the challenges to come!