Systems Approaches to Regional Sustainability

ISCI 361, ISCI 461 | 3 Credits

About the virtual program

This program is virtual and will take place online for Summer 2021. The application deadline has been extended, you can can continue to submit applications online.  Students will be selected on a rolling basis until courses are full.

Attn: Non-UBC Visiting Student Applicants Only

To apply, please send your completed application form, along with a copy of your transcript and letter of permission from your home institution to  Include “Virtual Global Seminars” in the subject line.  

About the course

This course is led by UBC faculty members Dr. Lee Groat and Dr. Denise Gabriel.

Contemporary scientists agree that solutions to complex global challenges such as environmental sustainability calls for “systems thinking”, the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. Systems thinking as an approach to problem-solving argues that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation.

A scientific approach to examining the world that embraces systems thinking therefore demands that we consider landscapes, regions, or whole continents as systems. In these systems, elements such as land, air, water, human societies, plants, and animals interact in ways that influence the likelihood that the system will survive or perish.

This 3-credit summer term 1 course (program runs between May 10 to June 17, 2021) builds on ISCI 360, in which students examine the complex interconnecting components that contribute to the nature and status of the present-day system of a country, a region, or a city. We intend to begin with a study of Iceland—as a completely self-contained nation-state ‘system’, Iceland offers a particularly valuable case study.

For more information, download the information booklet below: 

About the virtual experience

For 2021, we have re-envisioned the ISCI 361 field course and are bringing Iceland to you virtually! Through our long-standing relationship with Icelandic experts and our on-site travel guides, we will take you through an incredible Icelandic experience.

Potential site visits include:

  • Westman Islands and Golden Circle (here we will learn about geology, hydrology, geothermal energy)
  • Skaftafell (home to glaciers and a natural birch forest). Our guide will take us to the glacier and then to kulsárlón– a glacial river lagoon with calving glaciers
  • We will engage in presentations by Icelandic specialists at the University of Iceland’s Research Centre in Höfn, and then visit a glacial tongue with a local expert
  • Reyðarfjörður: We will visit the highly controversial Fjarðaál Smelter
  • Forestry in Hallorms-staðaskógur
  • Húsavík: We will learn about whaling
  • Dettifoss, Mývatn, Akureyri: We will visit a number of sites of ecological and geological interest in this unique region.
  • Blönduós hydropower plant
  • Stykkishólmur: We will meet with local representatives who will speak about their community’s efforts to achieve ‘EarthCheck Certification’
  • Breiðafjörður Bay: We will take a tour around one of the richest ecosystem areas in Iceland

Students will hear and interact directly with Icelandic specialists, and explore real-world applied topics ranging from human settlement to the role of geothermal energy in the Icelandic economy, from ecological to glaciological interests, and from water systems to agriculture. There is the possibility we will also meet virtually with the President of Iceland!

Example of a typical day/week

A typical day includes a virtual tour around specific sites (Þingvellir, Jökulsárlón). In some cases the virtual tour will be live, while in others it will be pre-recorded due to the time difference. Our expert guide will take us to the centre of the action and course instructors will provide detailed and interactive commentary on sustainability issues related to that site. Students will have the opportunity to interact with course instructors, Icelandic experts, the Icelandic community, as well as other classmates on daily topics.

Eligibility requirements

General Global Seminar requirements

  • You must have at least a 70% average in your most recent Winter Session of full-time studies prior to application
  • You need to be a UBC student in good standing (e.g., not be under academic or non-academic discipline) to participate in a Global Seminar
  • You should have full-time student status (as defined by your faculty) in the year prior to your Global Seminar
  • You must maintain 70% average prior to your Global Seminar departure
  • You must have completed or intend to complete the necessary (or equivalent) pre-requisite courses prior to Global Seminar start date
  • Unclassified students will be considered on a case-by-case basis
  • You will need to be accepted by the Program Director leading the Global Seminar

To be accepted for this Global Seminar, you have to meet both program-specific requirements as well as Go Global’s general eligibility.

Program-specific requirements

This course is open to students with third-year or higher standing in the Faculty of Science.


  • Recommended prerequisite ISCI 360, Systems Approaches to Regional Sustainability (taking place in Term 2 of each academic year) or assigned readings.
  • While the course is suitable for third-to fourth-year students from a variety of majors and science disciplines, preference will be given to students registered in Integrated Sciences.

General timelines

This 3-credit summer term 1 course runs between May 10 to June 17, 2021.

Application deadline

The application deadline has been extended, you can can continue to submit applications online. Students will be selected on a rolling basis until courses are full.

How to apply

  • Log in to the Gateway online application program
  • Select “Search Experiences” and type "VGS" to explore Global Seminars programs
  • Upload the application form for your selected Global Seminar – see Application documents below

Students are limited to apply for one Virtual Global Seminar.  Interest in a second Virtual Global Seminar will be assessed on a case by case basis and students should contact Go Global direclty for more information.

Program fees and costs

Go Global is committed to making high quality global education experiences accessible to all students.  For this reason, Virtual Global Seminars will be kept at no or low cost for the Summer 2021 season.  

The Go Global Fee ($415) will be covered in full by the Go Global Award ($500) and Program Fees will be covered in full by the Global Service Learning Award.

You will pay UBC tuition for the number of credits you enroll in for this program. 

Global Seminars refund policy

The Go Global Fee ($415.00 CDN) is an administrative fee required for all applicants to Go Global programs. The fee is non-refundable. However, it may be adjusted under the following circumstances.

If you withdraw from Go Global

To withdraw from your program, you must contact Go Global by email to request withdrawal.

Students who withdraw from the program after the program starts, will have their Go Global fee adjusted from $415.00 to $321.75 (reduced by $93.25).

In the case of withdrawal, Go Global Award funding must be returned in full.

If you have questions, please connect with your Go Global advisor or email Go Global at


If you are considering applying for a Go Global program and identify with having a disability or pre-existing health condition (mental or physical) which could impact your participation, or if you require academic accommodations, you can contact the following offices and meet with an Accessibility Advisor before the start of the program:


Go Global Vancouver

Go Global's campus office is closed until further notice. At this time, you can contact Go Global by email, phone or virtually through Zoom.

If you need to book an advising appointment, please complete the online request form. Appointments will be held through Zoom or by phone.

Advising hours

Monday: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Tuesday: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Thursday: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm