11 April 2014

A geography lecturer is recognised for her “outstanding” teaching on the field course she created to study the management of water in her Croatian homeland. 

When Dr Suzana (Suzi) Ilic was asked by the then head of the Geography department to devise a field trip to Istria, the Croatian region where she grew up, she knew she had to make it special.

“I love the region. It’s an area of natural beauty, a karst landscape, but the karst makes it very difficult to store water, so it is a very challenging environment in which to manage water,” says Suzi, who is still running the field module - Water and Environmental Management in a Mediterranean Context - ten years later.

Istria is such a fascinating part of Croatia, with a very rich history,” explains Suzi, who was leading this year’s trip when she heard she had won the Pilkington Teach-ing Award, which recognises excellence and innovation in teaching.

People have been migrating in and out of the region for centuries and this provides a fascinating context to our field studies. The political and historical changes influence how the land has changed and how the water is managed.”

It’s Suzi’s special approach, combining human and physical geography and making use of her local contacts, that has been recognised by the Award.

"We look at how the environment influences water management, but also the influence of human actions, and the political, social and economic influences. Any successful water management plan must take into account people’s needs and expectations. I think it is important that the students hear the information from as many perspec-tives as possible: not just professionals involved in supplying water, but also the people who use it."

So Suzi makes sure the students get to speak to a very wide range of people includ-ing: householders and children in a local school; those running the regional water supply companies and water agency; and academics from the Faculty of Civil Engi-neering at the University of Rijeka and the Croatian Geological Survey.

"I know many people in the area, which is an advantage. They really enjoy taking part and look forward to the students’ arrival every year. I’d like to thank them and my colleagues and the students at the Lancaster Environment Centre for making the field trip a success"

Suzi has a problem based learning approach to the field trip, and gets the students to do a range of activities including field surveys. Engineering students from the University of Rijeka help as translators and join in some some of its activities.

Since starting the field module, Suzi has done PhD supervision for the University of Rijeka and has initiated an Erasmus exchange programme with the University of Zagreb. Will her academic relations with her homeland, and the field trip itself, keep developing? Suzi is sure that it will.

“The region is now feeling the effects of climate change, such as increased drought and flooding. This makes every field trip unique and remains a fascinating region to visit,” says Suzi. “Though perhaps, having grown up there, I am a little bit biased in its favour.”

The Pilkington Teaching Award was established in 1985 through funds donated by the late Sir Alistair Pilkington for excellence and innovation in teaching.

The trip is open to Lancaster students studying BA and BSc Geography. For a student’s perspective on the field trip, read Jamie Quinlan’s blog on the recent visit to Istria. Find out more about studying Geography and field work opportunities at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University.