“Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” — Brené Brown

I invite you to chew on that quote while I welcome you to our new website for the STARS project! Please visit lakeheadsustainability.ca to view it. 

My name is Ledah McKellar and I have been assisting with the STARS project alongside the Centre for Place and Sustainability Studies (CPSS) at Lakehead University. The CPSS is the chief organization championing this project, with the support of the Office of the Vice-President Academic and Provost, Dr. Rod Hanley. It is with excitement that I write this first blog post for our new website. With the help of the Director of the Centre, Dr. David Greenwood, and the Associate Director, Dr. Pauline Sameshima, we built this website as a home base for the STARS project.  I would also like to thank Dayna Slingerland for the lovely handcrafted header image, and Mercedes Sandy for any photography on the site.

If you stumbled onto this page but don’t know what STARS is, please click here to be directed to a STARS Overview.

I would like to revisit the quote that I opened with. Brené Brown, Ph.D. LMSW, is an American scholar, author, and public speaker who has spent many years researching vulnerability, shame, courage, and worthiness. In a TedTalk called The Power of Vulnerability, she says “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” When I was hired as the STARS Project Coordinator for the Centre, the first thing I did was download the STARS Technical Manual, which is a 300 page checklist of STARS criteria. Not only was I overwhelmed, but I was nauseous. Where was the soul in all this?, I thought. Other questions raced through my head: wasn’t there a danger in standardized assessments? Don’t they tend to marginalize institutions that are smaller, with fewer resources to “compete”? Would Lakehead's unique positioning be able to shine in this project? It surprised me that a Centre who’s main focus was on place-based learning would endorse such a project. 
Before long, with the support of the Centre, I grew to see that there are multiple ways of understanding and representing data, and that, in fact, there is a great deal of soul involved in the STARS project if I change my focus. If we approach STARS as a tool in which to engage our campus in a meaningful conversation on sustainability, and what that looks like in the context of our shared place, then we are the owners of that project. For me, this shifts the control of the project into our community’s hands so that we use STARS as an agent for our own change. And we have witnessed just that (as slow as it may be!). By engaging in STARS, we at the Centre have had conversations with people we had never met on campus – local champions of sustainability or not – and discovered new things and made new relationships.

Here is a brief summary of what STARS has accomplished so far:

  1. We have piloted STARS as a service learning initiative by using it in the classroom. Under the supervision of  Contract Lecturer Mr. Raphael Shay, students of the undergraduate Geography class, Sustainable Community Design - GEOG 4771, have participated in the data collection process for STARS. It has been very insightful learning how STARS can work in the classroom and we hope that more classes will get involved next term!
  2. Each set of data that we collect for STARS comes with a soul, a story: what was the story of the champion behind that data,  or if the data was non-existing, why? In these stories we hope to cultivate a sense of community and inspiration around sustainability here at Lakehead. One of the ways we would like to represent these stories is through the use of interactive web design and GIS applications that will  take a virtual user on a storytelling walk of STARS and our campus.
  3. Our team has grown to include four more staff who are working on the project: Ph.D Candidate Alexa Scully leading the Orillia team, graduate students Sophie Best and Adam Young, and undergraduate student Gary Musson. Welcome to the team!
I invite you to stay tuned to the lakeheadsustainability.ca website as our STARS journey unfolds. I expect interesting, surprising, and beautiful stories to emerge as we begin to collect our data.  This home base will connect the university and the greater community at large with the STARS project. It is here that we will showcase all the discoveries that pop up along the way.