What happened on your first day of school? For students in professor David Salisbury’s Geography 345: Global Sustainability course, the first class included an invitation for an all-inclusive trip to Chile.

The students will travel to Santiago, Chile, over fall break to work with students at the University of Santiago on the Climate Change Atlas of the Americas, a project that Salisbury and the Pan American Institute of Geography and History have been working on since 2003, Salisbury said. The trip involves two days of field work and a workshop for UR students to present to and work with the Chilean university students.

“I was psyched,” sophomore Riley Place said. “I registered for [Global Sustainability] a little later, and I thought it was going to fill up. I was surprised that such a cool class on global sustainability with Dr. Salisbury, who I had read about in National Geographic -- I was surprised it had open slots. And I somehow had met the prerequisites, so I signed up and I was instantly happy.”

Place said Salisbury had delivered the news casually, telling the students first about how he would be traveling to Chile, and later informing students that they too would be joining.

Place recounted the moment they found out about the trip.

“He said: ‘The only way I’d go is if I could bring students. So I’m bringing students — I’m bringing you.’”

Senior Nia Cambridge, another student in the class, said she had found out over the summer while conducting research with Salisbury. Despite not being surprised by the news on the first day of class, Cambridge said she was still excited for the trip and the class. 

The Global Sustainability course covers the topics of society, economy and nature, Cambridge said, subjects that involve many moving parts. Students will spend the the first half of the semester, before the trip over fall break, focusing on the Climate Change Atlas of the Americas, which is a student-driven atlas that focuses on case studies of how climate change has affected different parts of the Americas.

Cambridge said she was passionate about climate change and had been excited about the opportunity to travel to Chile for research, but more importantly excited about the project itself.

“It’s really important that people know about these human stories and how the big decisions that we make in general as a human race affect people,” Cambridge said.

To highlight these human stories, students will present their case studies in storytelling fashion with maps and images. The case studies will then become entries to the Climate Change Atlas of the Americas, Salisbury said.

Cambridge is looking into Hurricane Dorian and its impacts on the islands it destroyed, and Place is studying extinction of birds on mountains.

Salisbury said the opportunity to travel to the University of Santiago had come about through a research connection over the summer of 2019 when he was in the Dominican Republic presenting his summer research on his mapping of the Amazon.

Leaders of the university's geography department approached Salisbury, telling him that their department wanted to host the next Climate Change Atlas of the Americas workshop in Santiago, Chile, they wanted to do it in the fall of 2019 and they wanted Salisbury to be in attendance, Salisbury said. 

When Salisbury responded he could come only if he could bring students, the department leader offered to provide students with lodging, food and an educational experience if Salisbury could get the students there, he said.

“I presented the proposal to [the School of Arts and Sciences and the Office of International Education] and they were really supportive,” Salisbury said. “And then here we are.”

Students may have to pay for incidental costs here and there, but all major expenses have been covered, Salisbury said.

Although students were made aware that they could absolutely receive an A in the class without going on the trip, all nine students have decided to attend, Salisbury said.

Salisbury said he would not advise students to sign up for the class in future years thinking they are going to fly internationally and be doing a project every year. Nevertheless, global sustainability is an interesting and current topic that students can engage with through the class, he said. 

“I would counsel people to take this class if they’re interested in working together in interdisciplinary teams to solve the wicked problems of the current age through a sustainability lens, to combine social justice, environmental science and economic thought,” Salisbury said.

And those problems are indeed present and ongoing.

“What’s clear from the science and the politics, if you’re paying attention during Climate Strike Week, is that these issues aren’t going away and they need to be talked about,” Salisbury said.

Contact news writer Cate Bonner at cate.bonner@richmond.edu.