March SpotLITE: Jen Dyer

Jen Dyer is a lecturer in sustainability in the School of Earth and Environment. In this SpotLITE, Jen discusses her role as the School Academic Lead for Inclusive Practice and her interests in Mixed Ability sports.

Tell us about your career before you took on your current role? (Or before you came to Leeds?) 

I’ve been in the School of Earth and Environment (SEE) since 2007 in a variety of roles. Those include my PhD, looking at the impact of growing a biofuel crop called Jatropha on livelihoods in Malawi, and a variety of short term research and teaching contracts before I secured a permanent Lectureship in Sustainability in 2016. My role has constantly evolved and my research has changed in focus completely during that time from natural resource management in southern Africa to social inclusion and Mixed Ability sport in Yorkshire! My teaching role has also evolved and I’ve had the pleasure of leading a variety of modules on our Sustainability-related degrees. Our students never fail to inspire and impress me so I have often looked for innovative ways to enhance their experience and have incorporated pedagogic research as a way of doing this.   

What is your current role? 

Currently, I feel like my role is a big sustainability-related jigsaw with teaching, research, management, practical contributions to the Uni community and pastoral aspects all jostling for space and time! As well as teaching on our Sustainability degrees, I lead the Creating Sustainable Futures Discovery Theme and am embracing the new School Academic Lead for Inclusive Practice (SALIP) role which I share with Jacqui Houghton in SEE. I also work closely with the Sustainability Service on a variety of projects and am the SEE Staff Sustainability Architect. I’ve recently led a team in developing a really exciting Living Lab project looking at pollinators on campus. This was showcased at the recent Student Sustainability conference so look out for opportunities to be involved in that if you’re interested in all things that buzz, hum and flap! I’m also involved in a lovely LITE Catalyst project looking to raise awareness of the Community and Voluntary sector as a career option amongst students and staff in Environment. This sector is so crucial in addressing the challenges we are facing as a society and our students can make a huge contribution given their skills and passion.    

You lead on sustainability within the Discovery programme. Why do you think it is so important for students at Leeds to study sustainability? 

We live in a changing and massively complex world with some huge challenges facing us. If we’re going to address them, everyone needs to be on board! Studying sustainability allows students to engage with and explore this complexity and understand their role in a more sustainable future, as well as the role of others. It allows them to think about how much they can do individually and how to influence those around them. Studying sustainability also provides students with essential skills like critical thinking and systems thinking, as well as understanding and empathy for the global community. We are looking to develop all sorts of innovative ways to embed sustainability in the curriculum, alongside Discovery, through the Leeds Sustainable Curriculum working group. I’m looking forward to working with lots of staff and students across the Uni on this.   

 Tell us about your interest in social sustainability? 

Often the environment is the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about sustainability and I’keen that this isn’t the only aspect people focus on, even though it’s often easier to engage with! My research around Mixed Ability sports has really opened my eyes to how different groups can be excluded from society through not having their voices heard. This has to be addressed if we are going to get a sustainable future that works for everyone with innovative, just and effective solutions. I’d love to see a world where we seek to understand and embrace social difference rather than be fearful of it.     

How does your work with Mixed Ability sports fit in with the rest of your academic role/interests? 

I’ve been involved with Mixed Ability sports and IMAS, the social enterprise behind it, since 2014. It has taught me so much about society and how we view social difference. I’ve been able to bring this into all aspects of my role at Leeds. It has really inspired me to learn more about inclusive teaching and engage with initiatives such as decolonising the curriculum. It’s made me more compassionate and better able to support student and staff mental health and wellbeing and I’ve recently written a paper with colleagues in SEE looking at what we can learn from mixed ability sports in making sustainability initiatives more inclusive. Now I need to tackle academia … ! 

I’ve also developed a huge interest in the role of the Community and Voluntary sector in addressing sustainability challenges, and the role research can play in supporting it, through my work with IMAS. This has inspired me to establish my own community interest company, Nifty Sustainability, with a former Leeds colleague, which I’m really excited about!