Saving the planet 101

LIHUE – Kauai Community College sustainability instructor Laura Williams feels like she fell into the right place at the right time. But her environmental interest began years ago, well before she became a teacher.

“As a kid we used to recycle cans in the late 80s,” Williams said. “I’d sometimes get to use the money to buy an ice cream for 15 cents.”

Today, she wants to pass on everything she’s learned about protecting the environment in a new course offered at the community college. For the past 15 months, Williams has been helping coordinate and develop the curriculum for a certificate program entitled Sustainability Science, set to begin this fall.

“One of the most important things we will teach them is to look at the whole picture when evaluating a problem,” Williams said. “If we tweak one aspect of the problem, it’s going to create an effect someplace else. If you view the problem holistically, we can come up with solutions that are environmentally sound.”

Using a portion of a $3.5 million award from the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program, the certificate is designed to prepare KCC students to advance in the work place.

Curriculum includes courses in biology, chemistry, math, accounting and finance, and written communication. Putting in the time and work to earn the 25 to 27 credit certificate, Williams said students should be able to pursue careers with confidence in fields like waste water operators, maintenance staff at hotels, construction workers requiring expertise in environmental/economical balance, hydroponics and aquaponics technicians and apiarists.

National recognition for KCC’s research has been growing recently. On Aug. 13, it was recognized by The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education for the “Best Case Study from an Associate College with 5,000 or Fewer Full-Time Students.” KCC’s submission was titled, “A Unique Hawaiian Learning Approach to Sustainable Living, Islandwide.”

Reducing trash, conserving water and energy efficiency are practices people can use across the board wherever they work and live, according to Williams. She said the curriculum will be presented with an Hawaiian cultural perspective.

“It will make it more meaningful to people who grew up here,” Williams said. “We’ll look at the subjects in a way they can relate to.”

She’ll lead a one day field trip as part of the program to Waipa to learn land and watershed management techniques from practices on the ahupuaa.

“From the top of the mountain to the reef,” Williams said, “They’re managing the land in a way so the streams are not clogged up by invasive species, not by chemicals. We live on a closed loop system where everything we do has an effect. With everything we put in our trash and down our drains, we deal with the effects.”

Williams’ philosophy about sustainability is infused with an underlining theme of concern for the keiki. She said she is worried about their futures.

“We’re living with a lot of environmental problems right now. If we don’t make changes they’ll have a hard time adjusting,” Williams said. “For me, it’s about making the life for our kids easier and better than what we have now.”

The Sustainability Certificate can be earned in one year, studying full-time, and would cost students between $2,850 to $3,078 plus fees and the cost of books. Financial aid is available.

Info: Williams at 245-8386 or email


Lisa Ann Capozzi, a features and education reporter can be reached at


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