Kshamta Hunter is a sustainability practitioner, curriculum designer, community builder and facilitator with more than ten years of experience and history of working in higher education. She works as the manager of student engagement with UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI). She founded the UBC Sustainability Ambassadors program, which offers leadership experience to students interested in personal, collaborative, and community engaged learning. With more than one hundred student leader graduates, the program inspires youth to tackle their community issues through offering opportunities of developing leadership competencies. Read more about Kshamta below!
SIA: Tell us a bit about your journey. How did you enter this space?
Kshamta Hunter: I was completely science-driven when pursuing my BSc and initially wanted to get into med school or some kind of research field related to science. However, after working in labs for some time, I shifted routes and became a high school science and biology teacher. I thought that maybe teaching would be something that could speak to me more. I quickly realized there was something missing, especially in the sciences, and at the same time I noticed that there were several things happening in the sustainability space both locally and globally that interested me.
The social aspects of sustainability grabbed my attention: I thought, how I can convey a message in a manner that shifts students’ perspectives from the traditional ways of doing things? I came back to UBC to get my MA in Sustainability Education and was fortunate enough to have flexible supervisors who guided me to create my own pathway, given that, at that time, there were no specific sustainability-related degrees or programs.
While working on my thesis, I interviewed a sustainability champion who informed me about a new position at the UBC Sustainability Initiative focused on sustainability student engagement. During that time, my intention was to learn new ways to incorporate sustainability aspects in my own teaching – I wasn’t looking for a job at the time. I applied anyways and got the position. And I still love what I’m doing!
Since this was a fairly new position at UBC, I came in and had the flexibility to transform the role into something that compliments the strengths that I can offer. I work on various sustainability projects on campus and I also started the UBC Sustainability Ambassadors program, the only interdisciplinary peer program that builds student leadership opportunities focused on sustainability engagement.
Some people say that you have to keep on moving with different jobs to keep your relevance, but I also feel that once you find your calling, it’s okay to follow that route if it’s feeding your passion.
SIA: What is your definition of impact?
KH: When I think of impact, I think of social change, as well as individual and community transformations. These changes don’t just happen overnight. For me, impact is a process – it starts at the individual level through conversations about values, connections, and how we choose to live our lives, and it extends to the work that we do in our communities.
SIA: Did you always want to work in the impact space?
KH: I didn’t always know I wanted to work in an impact space. Even when I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree, I didn’t know much about social impact and social innovation or sustainability. I discovered it through my work experiences, which enabled me to gain those key skills and to fill in important knowledge gaps.
SIA: What are some of the issues that you care about that you’re able to contribute to with your work?
KH: One area that I am currently working in and consider extremely important, is sustainability education. And by that, I mean knowledge, but also the associated skills, values, and perspectives that help us build a circular and equitable society. For example, one area that I find really interesting is how people who have similar sustainability goals are motivated to come together to initiate and begin new projects. I am interested in learning how to cultivate these interactions and foster the development of sustainability and leadership competencies for social and systemic change.
An area I’d like to spend more time focusing on is the social justice component of sustainability, including how best to incorporate and bring into mainstream the perspectives of indigenous people and people of colour (POC). Through my work, I am helping support student initiatives like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Alliance and the Kindness Project – groups that are trying to tackle these big issues head-on. I’d like to incorporate more of this aspect of sustainability into my work to be directly impactful.
SIA: What’s next for you, what are your long-term goals?
KH: I will continue doing what I enjoy doing, which includes helping support the next generation of student leaders who will go out in the world and do the right thing. From what I see, I’m making an impact that’s causing this ripple effect. If I can help somebody do something they want to do, or work on something they’re passionate about and that has a positive social impact, they’re going to impact other people’s lives as well. Seeing those changes and the personal growth in students is so rewarding – more than anything else.
I’m also pursuing my PhD in Sustainability Curriculum and Pedagogy. Given all the global uncertainty, I want to learn about – and perhaps develop – new pedagogical models that support the development of competencies and social change. More broadly, I am interested in how we can transform our education system to adapt to our changing needs. We need to make sure that once students graduate and start working, they’re able to tackle uncertainties with the skills and competencies they gain during their education.
SIA: Could you walk us through a typical workday?
KH: Pre-pandemic, my days looked a bit different than nowadays. In the morning, I made sure my three kids are ready for school. A typical day at work would include lots of emails, attending and facilitating meetings with staff and students, managing different projects and timelines, and developing curriculum and workshops. I like researching and learning new ways of offering sustainability relevant engagement opportunities to students and working or partnering with them to encourage involvement and action. When I come back home, after picking up the kids from school or daycare, I concentrate on my children, which typically includes making dinner and doing homework or activities, before putting them to bed. And then work a bit on my PhD work. They are long days but I enjoy everything and consider myself extremely lucky to have all of these aspects in my life!
With the pandemic, our routine has shifted quite a bit and now I feel like I’m working and taking care of them simultaneously, which is not necessarily a bad thing because I am not driving as much and I can see them grow more every day and that is very rewarding in itself!
SIA: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
KH: With our drastically changing world, we need to be able to test ideas and try new initiatives. But I forget that half of the time, it is extremely difficult to adapt or change to situations because of the way our societies and institutions are set up. I truly believe in grassroots efforts, but I also believe that most effective changes in a system happen by being part of that system. It’s both challenging and important at the same time; how can you change a system without fully understanding it first?
SIA: Are there any misconceptions about the space you’re in?
KH: Before I entered the sustainability field, I thought people who are working in this space lived extremely sustainable lives in the sense that they’re avid recyclers, composters, and bikers. Although I know this can be true, everyone looks at things through a different lens and has their own personal circumstances. For me, the social aspects of sustainability are important, so I want to contribute more towards that through my everyday behavior and my interactions with colleagues and students.
SIA: What are some skills required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
SIA: What are some personal characteristics that you value in someone?
KH: I would say someone who is resilient, positive, caring, adaptable and motivated even in the face of failure. Being caring is #1 for me.
SIA: Knowing what you know now, would you have done something differently with respect to your career?
KH: I believe I took the time to explore and test ideas, which is normal and needed for growth. If I had known that this is the field I could pursue as my career, perhaps I would have made the switch much sooner and would have spent more time learning about various aspects of sustainability.
SIA: Could you share with us the best life or career advice you’ve received?
KH: The best advice I’ve ever received is: you make the best decisions with the information that you have in that given moment. So, as long as you consider and reflect on the information available at the time to make your decision, there is no reason to regret that decision at a later time.
We feel lucky to learn from Kshamta’s experience and share her story with you all. A few insights that stuck with us are:
We are so grateful to Kshamta for sharing her experiences with us. If you want to learn more about sustainability education connect with Kshamta on LinkedIn.