Anna Colangeli Instructor, Environmental Technology and Biology
Ask anyone who has taken Camosun's Environmental Technology (ET) program in the past 10 years about their experience, and you will undoubtedly hear Anna Colangeli's name and how her passion, approach and dedication has created an experience rich with experiential learning.
"Don't give up! Find a Plan B. It's so common for the momentum at the beginning of a project to fizzle out, but there is always a way – you just have to persevere and continue."
A love of gardening and a passion for student learning
With almost 22 years with the college and six of them as ET chair, Anna has been at the forefront of integrating sustainability into teaching and learning – providing an outlet for students to use their creativity to solve real challenges in their community. Anna has blended her love for gardening, knowledge of composting and passion for student learning into an impressive career at Camosun College.
After obtaining a degree in microbiology, Anna went on to complete a Masters in Forest Genetics and then a PhD from the University of Victoria in Forest Ecology. "I found myself going from studying the very small to studying the very large," she says with a smile. Anna considers herself fortunate to have been involved developing Camosun's Environmental Technology program right from the beginning, and for being able to bring her background from all three areas of study to the program.
Anna's enthusiasm for the student research component of the ET program is undeniable: "There are so many great things about the student research projects. The projects are really open-ended so the students can study any area of the environment." She goes on to explain that at the very beginning of the program, students learn about what is (and isn't) being done on campus, and she points out that students are always very impressed at what is being done around campus, initiatives that are not apparently visible. "It's important because it really gets the students thinking locally," Anna explains, "and it gets them thinking about what more can be done. It also exposes them to resource limitations on campus, which is an important concept in terms of real-world problem solving. "
Keeping up: the importance of continuity
When talking to Anna about her work in environmental sustainability, continuity is a theme that comes up again and again.
"My biggest challenge [in environmental work] undoubtedly has been continuity. A friend once told me that I am always on the 'committees of lost causes'. [laughs] Starting projects is one thing, but having the people and the resources to continue them is the biggest factor in success. Support from the college, collaboration with students, staff and faculty (and a special mention of the fantastic support from the facilities management team here) has lessened this issue over time for me."
Going back to the ET program, Anna emphasizes the importance of continuity and collaboration to the success and growth of the student research projects: "I feel quite lucky that we are able to work with a cohort of students and really get to know them over the three-year period that they are here. It forms the basis of being able to establish and follow-through on long-term projects. There is a lot of great work on campus (including the native plant garden, the organic waste diversion program and the aquaponics project to name a few) that began as student projects and that have been carried on and furthered by collaboration with faculty, staff and other students."
When asked what her biggest success has been, Anna answers with no hesitation: "Composting! Can you believe I first started working on composting initiatives on campus twenty years ago?! There were so many problems with the initial attempts. Increase in rodent population, unhappy neighbours . . . But we met those challenges and when the green cone project was first proposed - about five years ago - I thought to myself, 'I am not going to give up on this one!' The green cone composting system we have in place now is working so well! In fact, as we speak, the Operations Manager of Victoria's Compost Education Centre, Marika Smith, is attending the Compost Council of Canada's National Compost Conference, and Camosun's composting initiative is one of the success stories she will be showcasing."
Anna's advice to aspiring sustainability leaders of the future: "Don't give up! Find a Plan B. It's so common for the momentum at the beginning of a project to fizzle out, but there is always a way – you just have to persevere and continue."
Retiring into the garden
Looking to the future, Anna is planning on retiring in the next couple of years. While she loves teaching and has enjoyed her time at Camosun, she is looking forward to spending more time on her personal hobby and passion – gardening. She welcomes the opportunity to becoming more involved in community projects and organizations: "Specifically, I would like to get more involved in community sustainable gardening and organic waste projects. So still teaching, but to a different group! Looking back over my career, I started out most interested in the natural environment, but now it is more about things closer to home – the urban environment."