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Resource and Environmental Management

Professor committed to experiential learning and decolonizing planning curriculum and food pedagogy receives SFU 2023 Excellence in Teaching Award.

March 06, 2024

Tammara Soma, an assistant professor in SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, equips her students with the skills, support and experiences they’ll need to tackle real-world problems and develop strong ethical and professional practices.

SFU awarded Soma the 2023 Early Career Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizing her dedication to provide students with engaging, hands-on learning opportunities, to decolonize planning education and food systems pedagogy, and for her focus on relationship building, collaboration and humility in the classroom.

As the co-founder and director of the Food Systems Lab and as a food systems planner, Soma is an active community-engaged researcher who often finds opportunities to involve students in research projects and work with diverse community partners.

“I want students to come out of my class and the program with tangible skills, a portfolio, and skillsets that can boost their career prospects, and also interpersonal skills that can help them support diverse communities. Engaging in community projects is one way among many to do this,” says Soma. “Working with community partners or engaging in a studio project helps mentor students while also providing a service to community partners that may not have the capacity and resources to answer some of the pressing research questions they may have.”

Soma explains that “it is easy to have a disconnect between theory and practice, and it can be easy to take on the role of an “expert” that is not grounded in reality or humility,” which makes these experiences all the more valuable.

Outside of community projects, she develops engaging assignments that are designed to build skills potential employers will find valuable, expose students to different perspectives and help students learn to communicate complex ideas.

Students in her classroom can expect to be taught a systems thinking approach when learning about the environment, cities, food systems and more. They will also be exposed to a range of voices and perspectives from diverse practitioners and scholars who are typically underrepresented in academia. This helps ensure students have the tools and context they’ll need to develop appropriate planning-related solutions.

As an educator and immigrant from Indonesia to Canada, Soma works to embody All My Relations, an Indigenous worldview recognizing the interconnectedness of all creations, and the Seven Grandfather Teachings of humility, bravery, honesty, wisdom, truth, respect and love — something she hopes will help students understand their responsibilities to be good relations, honour treaties and respect the land.

In line with this approach to teaching, Soma received a 2023 Innovations in Indigenous Teaching and Learning project grant from the Faculty of Environment to decolonizing her curriculum.

With this grant, she invited two Squamish ethnobotanists and a Sto:lo and Squamish artist to talk about disrupting conventional planning processes on unceded territories in her PLAN 100: Introduction to Planning course, teach students in REM 357: Planning for Sustainable Food Systems about the medicinal values of food and more.

“In a set classroom, with limited time and resources, it can be difficult to try new formats or to meaningfully compensate and engage with Indigenous experts,” says Soma. She explains that this grant allowed her to introduce new activities, learn Indigenous ethnobotany, facilitate a tea ceremony, and introduce learning circles to her classes. She also created a short video documenting her experience working to decolonize her courses and the importance of this work, and had a graphic designer document the process.

“Decolonizing planning and food systems education is an important part of training a future generation of planners who will conduct themselves and develop land use and food systems planning policies that do not continue to harm Indigenous peoples and the environment,” says Soma.