For its 20th anniversary in 2007, the local chapter oikos St. Gallen came up with a jubilee project: the oikos Sustainability Thesis Award. The award was supposed to honor an outstanding Master thesis written in the area of sustainability at the University of St. Gallen. The first organizer was Vera Reinhard, back then a board member of oikos St. Gallen. After some months of work, she found a sponsor for the prize money of 3,000 Swiss francs. The president of the university committed to hand over the award yearly on Master Graduation Day. The first and only student-initiated award of the University of St. Gallen came to live.
This year, the award celebrated its own small jubilee, its 5th anniversary. It is time to look back: Has the award changed anything at the university? From an organizer’s perspective, this question is difficult to answer. It is easier to answer how the award changed my impression of my own institution.
My first and slightly disappointing impression was that, although sustainability is a “hot” topic, it was difficult to find applicants. But why? Was there a lack of guidance for these topics? In order to find out, we started to organize a Master thesis workshop in 2010. While preparing the workshop, oikos St. Gallen board member Christina Braun asked dozens of lecturers and professors whether they would be willing to supervise sustainability related theses. A high fraction not only indicated their interest in the topic but also stated that they were already working in this field. This was my second, this time positive impression. The third, again positive impression was the large number of applications for the workshop, so that we even had to organize a second one. The workshops were very lively. Students from different fields could exchange their research ideas, and we could exchange information we gathered beforehand.
My overall impression is therefore that oikos can help in dissolving frictions by matching students, topics and supervisors – and thus facilitate sustainability research. An Award project is a good start. But it will certainly not be the end.
oikos St. Gallen