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Caatje Kluskens, a 22-year-old Media and Culture student at the University of Amsterdam, pitched her idea for a course entitled ‘Food, Animals and the Environment: The relationship between humans, non-humans and the environment’. With her pitch, she convinced the jury that it is possible to create an interdisciplinary elective course centred on the theme of humans and animals in light of the climate crisis and won the Create a Course Challenge.

The jury – which consisted of Rick van der Ploeg, professor of Environmental Economics at the UvA and Oxford University, Lucy Wenting, director of education at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (IIS) and Rosa van der Laag, Future Planet Studies student and co-plaintiff in the climate case against Shell – found it difficult to make a choice. All five ideas for a new, interdisciplinary optional course at the UvA were appealing because of their social relevance and the variety of perspectives on sustainability. Nevertheless, the jury ultimately decided that Caatje's course is the most accessible to a wide audience.

As juror Rosa explains, ‘It is an introductory course, which also appeals to students who might not have an initial interest in sustainability. It examines environmental issues from different disciplines, such as ethics, media studies, environmental studies, political science and many more. The ways we interact with food, animals and nature are important themes that have never before been brought together in a single course. That’s why “Food, Animals and the Environment” is a good addition to the UvA Course Catalogue.’

Course content

Caatje serves as a student assistant in the Human-Animal Studies programme and is co-founder of the Centre for Human-Animal Studies. According to Caatje, ‘Many climate problems are inextricably connected to our food system and the way we think about nature. The central question of the course is therefore: how does our relationship with animals and nature impact the climate crisis, and how do the climate crisis and our food system impact animals and nature?

In the course, students will learn about nature, in nature. By holding the classes outside in nature, students can see with their own eyes how our food systems are affecting ecosystems and will be encouraged to consider their own relationships with nature.’

The Create a Course Challenge Special Edition: Sustainability     

This spring, the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (IIS) organised a special edition of the annual Create a Course Challenge, this time with a focus on sustainability. One of the jury's main criteria was how the proposed course might contribute to achieving the sustainable changes society needs. Students were challenged to think out of the box and consider how sustainability education can be fun, challenging and meaningful.   

For this special edition, 36 ideas were submitted by UvA students from all faculties. Next, all UvA students and employees were invited to vote online for 10 ideas. The five students whose ideas earned the most votes were then given the chance to present their courses to the jury and the audience during a hybrid/live stream finale.

In the coming months, the IIS educational developers will work with Caatje Kluskens to further develop her idea into an actual course, which will be offered to UvA students from all faculties as an interdisciplinary elective in the second semester of next academic year.

Student involvement

In the autumn of 2021, there will be another standard Create a Course Challenge inviting students to submit an idea for a new course at the UvA. These Challenges let students actively influence the way education is provided at the UvA while ensuring the education remains socially relevant and innovative.