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Faculty Workshop Aims to Encourage Sustainability Education at ACM Colleges

Faculty Workshop Aims to Encourage Sustainability Education at ACM Colleges May 19, 2010

Sustainability education is “good, classic liberal arts – good problem-solving skills, good communication skills,” according to Jon Jensen, Director of Environmental Studies at Luther College.

Colleges have been incorporating sustainable practices – such as recycling and energy conservation – into the everyday operation of their campuses, to save money as well as to address environmental concerns like climate change, Jensen noted. Sustainability education addresses the curriculum, giving students opportunities in their courses to explore the interplay between the social, economic, and environmental needs of current and future generations.

Integrating Sustainability into the Undergraduate Curriculum, a workshop for ACM faculty hosted by Luther College on July 8-10, will be the opening event in a year-long initiative to build a foundation for sustainability education on ACM campuses.

Sustainability education “is a fast-growing movement in higher education,” said Jensen. “Some of the ACM schools are national leaders in sustainability … and are well-positioned to be national leaders on the sustainability curriculum front as well. We wanted to be able to build on that position (and) spread this throughout the ACM.”

The initiative is funded by the ACM Faculty Career Enhancement (FaCE) Project, which will cover most of the costs for faculty from ACM colleges to attend the workshop. Faculty who are interested in attending should visit the Integrating Sustainability workshop website for more information and to register.

Integrating Sustainability into the Undergraduate Curriculum

 A workshop for faculty at ACM colleges

 June 8-10, 2010

Luther College

Decorah, Iowa

Developing and disseminating curricular resources

The goals of the workshop are:

  • To build connections among faculty at ACM colleges, both within and across disciplines, so they can collaborate to develop ways to integrate sustainability topics into courses;
  • To begin to build disciplinary collections of materials about sustainability;
  • To create a set of teaching/learning activities based around sustainability; and
  • To begin and continue conversations at individual institutions about sustainability.

Prior to the workshop, participants will gather materials to provide a baseline of what the individual ACM colleges are doing in sustainability education. During the workshop, they will develop and submit teaching activities on sustainability, which will be posted on the project website, to begin building and disseminating a collection of resource materials for faculty.

Following the workshop, faculty from each ACM college will develop action plans for fostering sustainability education on their campuses and collaborate with faculty from other campuses to continue developing and collecting curricular materials.

The initiative will culminate with a workshop and conference in April, 2011, to share outcomes and plan future activities.

Students are engaged in sustainability issues

Jensen noted that students have been an integral part of the push for sustainability education, starting even before they arrive on campus. “Our prospective students are interested in (sustainability) and they’re sort of driving us forward in ways,” he said. “It doesn’t work so well on a college campus if (students are) seeing recycling, but what’s going on in the classroom doesn’t have obvious connections to the same sorts of issues and challenges.”

Sustainability education, Jensen pointed out, has many connections to the liberal arts and will be woven into the fabric of students’ future careers. “When we say sustainability, at least from my point of view, this isn’t (just) awareness of environmental issues,” he said. “It’s making sure that students have the skills, the perspective, the basic capability to be prepared for careers. I think if you’re going into business, issues related to sustainability are going to have to be a piece of what you (will) address as a manager.”

Focusing on introductory courses

During a sabbatical in 2008-09, Jensen made an effort to find out what colleges and universities across the country – both individually and in groups – have been doing to foster sustainability education. Aspects of some of the models he found have been incorporated into this project, such as bringing together faculty from different colleges in discipline-specific groups to work on sustainability curricula.

“The premise is that by working within the disciplines, it gives us an easier ‘in’ to working with faculty because that’s the world they live in and the courses that they teach,” Jensen said.

The workshop and project will focus on introductory courses, rather than upper level courses, for practical reasons: more students take them and more faculty teach them. “If you can find places to infuse (sustainability) into the introductory courses, then the students who go on to major in that field have that as a starting point and faculty can build on that in further courses as they go forward,” said Jensen.

“My hope is that (sustainability education) spreads, that it doesn’t just become something that is environmental studies (or) the occasional faculty member who’s interested, but that everyone becomes conversant,” said Jensen. “We use the phrase ‘sustainability literacy’ at times, that it is something that becomes a kind of common framework across the campus, across the disciplines.”

Planning team for Integrating Sustainability into the Undergraduate Curriculum:

  • James Farrell, Professor of History and Environmental Studies, St. Olaf College
  • Suzanne Savanick Hansen, Sustainability Manager, Macalester College
  • Steve Holland, Assistant Professor of Economics, Luther College
  • Jon Jensen, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies; Director of Environmental Studies, Luther College
  • Ruth Kath, Professor of German and Director of the Sense of Vocation Program, Luther College
  • Mary Savina, Professor of Geology, Carleton College

The ACM Faculty Career Enhancement Project is supported by generous grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


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