Peter Brennan, PhD, Academic Director
Peter Brennan designed the Sustainability and Environmental Action program and has been academic director of the program since its inception in 2000. An Australian national, Peter was born and bred in Brisbane, just north of the program base in Byron Bay. He has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in ecology and geography from the University of Queensland and a PhD from the University of Hawai'i, where he was an East-West Center fellow. His dissertation was a study of the effects of forest fragmentation on the rainforest communities in Central Queensland. Prior to working for SIT Study Abroad, he worked for five years as an archaeologist in Hawaii and has taught at New Zealand’s University of Auckland as well as the University of Hawai'i and Queensland University of Technology. Dr. Brennan served as academic director of the SIT Study Abroad program in Cairns, Australia, from 1993 to 1997. Prior to becoming academic director of this Australia program in 2000, he worked as a consultant ecologist and environmental planner for a company based near Byron Bay. As academic director, Dr. Brennan designs the academic components of the program, supervises the program staff and faculty, teaches courses, and serves as a resource to ensure students’ academic needs are met. In this role, he draws on his familiarity with the region as a resident of New South Wales and his passionate belief in field-based, environmental education. In his spare time Peter likes to surf and is also involved with a number of local environmental groups.
Elizabeth (Eshana) Bragg, PhD, Assistant Academic Director
Dr. Bragg is an ecopsychologist and has been teaching with the SIT Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action program since 2000. She has an undergraduate degree in ecology and psychology from the University of Sydney and a PhD from James Cook University in Far North Queensland. Her work and passion focus on understanding the psychological relationship between people and nature and using this to motivate profound social change and effective environmental action. Eshana is a member of the editorial board of Ecopsychology, a peer-reviewed, international journal of environmental psychology. She has worked as a sustainability consultant with Sustainable Futures Australia, based in Byron Bay, since 1998. In this position she specializes in the development of innovative educational materials and experiences as well as systems for organizational change, and she has managed award-winning projects. Eshana collaborates with visual artists and photographers and uses creative writing and interpretive writing to create effective social marketing campaigns for sustainability. She works in partnership with government, industry, and local communities (including Aboriginal custodians).
In her role with the SIT Australia program, Eshana provides support to the academic director by facilitating student discussion groups, setting essay topics and grading, teaching research methods, and supervising Independent Study Projects. She also leads a two-day experiential workshop on environmental psychology in a rainforest retreat center at the beginning of the semester as well as an inspiring and practical workshop on “action for social change” later in the semester.
Gina Crane, Homestay Coordinator
Gina Crane has been the homestay coordinator for the Australia program since 2003 and prior to that was a homestay mother for six semesters. She is responsible for recruiting, vetting, and training homestay families; assigning students to homestays; and organizing social events associated with the homestay. Gina is a qualified chef but now works in the field of community services.
Laura Brennan, Lecturer and Program Assistant
Laura Brennan has worked for the program since its inception in 2000. She handles the program’s accounting and behind-the-scenes organization. She also teaches various methods classes and has overall responsibility for the Aboriginal portion of the program. Laura has a degree in accounting and a master’s in Asian studies, has taught at Hawai'i Pacific University, and was co-academic director of the Cairns SIT Study Abroad program for four years.
Peter Cuming, Lecturer
Peter Cuming, a leading Australian sustainability planner and educator, has been teaching with the SIT Sustainability and Environmental Action program since 2001. He holds an honours degree in urban and regional planning, a diploma in permaculture, and completed postgraduate work in coastal management and mediation. Peter is the founder and managing director of Sustainable Futures Australia, an award-winning firm established in 1987 and focused on sustainability planning, design, and education. He has 29 years of experience as an environmental planner, strategist, and facilitator of community-government-industry partnerships, planning processes, and organizational change. Peter has been chairperson and member of a range of key natural resource management, education, health, and community development boards and advisory committees and was an elected local councilor for two terms. He teaches the program’s two-day workshop on sustainability.
Mary Graham and Russell Butler, Elders
Mary Graham is a highly respected Bundjalung elder and former academic who has held numerous senior positions in Aboriginal organizations. She has been a member of the prime minister’s Reconciliation Council and an elected member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. As part of the Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action program, Mary teaches a one-day workshop on Aboriginal worldviews. Mary has worked with SIT Study Abroad since 1993.
Russell Butler leads the four-day Aboriginal field trip. He is a Banjin elder who learned many traditional skills and stories from his grandmother. Russell has stated, "I went to two schools — mainstream school and my grandmother's school. . . Now it's my job to teach my sons, to pass on that knowledge and keep those skills and traditions alive." SIT has had the privilege of working with Russell since 1993. Russell specializes in teaching students the cultural and material aspects of the traditional Aboriginal lifestyle. He uses stories, discussions, and bush walks to teach students ethnobotany, tool making, and Aboriginal environmental philosophy. Russell is also a renowned artist and an actor, starring opposite Jodie Foster in one movie.
Helena Norberg-Hodge, Lecturer
Author and filmmaker Helena Norberg-Hodge is a pioneer of the “new economy” movement. She is a widely respected analyst of the impact of the global economy on communities, local economies, and personal identity, and is a leading proponent of “localization,” or decentralization, as a means of countering those impacts. Helena’s book Ancient Futures has been described as “an inspirational classic.” Together with the film of the same title, it has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold about half a million copies. She is also the producer and co-director of the award-winning film The Economics of Happiness and the co-author of Bringing the Food Economy Home and From the Ground Up: Rethinking Industrial Agriculture.
Earth Journal counted Helena among the world’s “ten most interesting environmentalists,” and in Carl McDaniel’s book Wisdom for a Liveable Planet, she was profiled as one of “eight visionaries changing the world.” She has also been awarded the Right Livelihood Award, or “Alternative Nobel Prize.” Educated in Sweden, Germany, Austria, England, and the United States, Helena specialized in linguistics, which included studies at the University of London and at MIT. Helena is the founder and director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), a founding member of the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture, and a co-founder of both the International Forum on Globalization and the Global Ecovillage Network.
Helena has lectured in seven languages at universities around the world and has previously taught in SIT’s International Honors Program. As part of the Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action program, Helena teaches classes on the impacts of globalization and on the localization movement.