A new course for the 2020 “Maymester” will give underclassmen the chance to visit South Africa for free.

“Future Cities and the Environment: Richmond, Cape Town and Durban,” a course offered by the Office of International Education and the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, will address urban planning and environmental issues that cities face today, while students learn to propose progressive solutions for the future, said course director Todd Lookingbill, an associate professor of geography and the environment, and biology. 

This half-credit course is supported and fully funded through the University of Richmond’s EnCompass program, a short-term, faculty-led study abroad program that offers international experience to students who are less likely to study abroad, said UR’s study abroad manager Patrick Schweiger. 

This demographic includes student athletes, first-generation students, men, students of color and STEM majors, according to UR’s International Education website. EnCompass aims to eliminate circumstances that bar these students from studying abroad, such as high costs and scheduling conflicts.  

Students enrolled in this course will conduct comparative studies between  Richmond, Virginia, and Cape Town and Durban, South Africa. 

Lookingbill will serve as the faculty director throughout the three-week long immersive Maymester program, which starts May 11 and ends May 31. 

“We’ll look at the spatial distribution of environmental problems and then propose potential solutions to those problems,” Lookingbill said. “Issues we’ll be focusing on are clean air, clean water and even biodiversity issues.”

Lookingbill is excited for students to consider a future where cities have a thriving, equitable environment, he said.

“If we take Richmond as an example, there is a very uneven distribution of which neighborhoods have the highest heat stress,” he said. “Temperatures in cities can be as much as 16 degrees hotter in some locations. We found that those areas tend to be the hottest and also tend to be the least affluent.” 

Lookingbill said that after spending a week in Richmond, the group would travel to Cape Town, South Africa, where students would study the city’s water crisis and other social issues that contribute to environmental distress.

“Cape Town is one of the first major cities in the world to nearly run out of water,” Lookingbill said. “Students will explore a combination of factors that are causing this water crisis and propose solutions based on their findings.”

Lookingbill wants to highlight the “local-to-global” aspects of the trip by connecting students’ observations and experiences in South Africa to current social and environmental issues in Richmond, he said. 

“There are links between the apartheid history of South Africa and issues here in Virginia related to redlining and other social issues that we’ll explore in Cape Town,” he said. 

In Durban, a city on the coast of South Africa, students will observe the air quality and wildlife issues, he said.

“We’ll take a toxicity tour, talk about air quality and actually do some air sampling in Durban as well as Richmond to look at the spatial distribution of air quality,” Lookingbill said. “We’ll end in an area around Durban to talk about community conservation and wildlife issues, and we’ll actually get to see some of the big five wildlife species that people think of when they think of Africa.” 

The big five wildlife species are the lion, the leopard, the rhino, the elephant and the African buffalo, according to National Geographic’s website.

First-year Marco Consuelo is one of 16 students who were accepted to the program. Consuelo is looking forward to his first time traveling abroad, he said. 

“I’m most excited about going to South Africa and being with a group in a different country and setting,” Consuelo said. “I hadn’t really thought about going abroad, so to experience it in this capacity and pretty early on in my college career is really exciting.”  

Consuelo was inspired to apply to Future Cities and the Environment after the professor for his ecotourism class endorsed the opportunity, he said. 

“I’m taking Ecotourism right now and it looks at the effects of tourism in terms of sustainability and the people that live there,” he said. “I really enjoy that class and we’ll see after this trip if it’s something I would want to do in the real world.” 

Contact contributor Jordan Daniel at jordan.daniel@richmond.edu

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