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Conference Aims to Build Connections and Resources for Sustainability Education

Conference Aims to Build Connections and Resources for Sustainability Education March 8, 2011

Interest in sustainability is sweeping college and university campuses across the country. But what about the curriculum? Do courses across the disciplines integrate sustainability topics into the readings, assignments, and discussions?

Integrating Sustainability into the Undergraduate Curriculum, a conference to be held on April 3-4 at Luther College in Decorah, IA, will bring together faculty to share curricular resources and best practices for teaching sustainability and to learn about sustainability education at colleges across the U.S.

Conference on Integrating Sustainability into the Undergraduate Curriculum

April 3-4, 2011

Luther College

“Part of the purpose of the conference is for the ACM schools to be leaders in helping spread the word about sustainability education to faculty on other campuses,” said Jon Jensen, Director of Environmental Studies at Luther College and one of the conference organizers.

The conference is the concluding event of a year-long collaborative effort led by faculty from Luther, St. Olaf, Macalester, and Carleton Colleges and funded by a grant from the ACM Faculty Career Enhancement (FaCE) project.

Registration for the event is free and open to faculty and staff from any college or university.

The keynote speaker for the conference will be James Farrell, the author of The Nature of College: How a New Understanding of Campus Life Can Change the World as well as numerous books that examine the American way of life, from One Nation Under Goods: The Malling of America to Inventing the American Way of Death.

Farrell is the Boldt Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities at St. Olaf College, where he developed Campus Ecology, a course that makes students the subject of their own environmental studies. Information about courses and course activities on sustainability are posted on the Integrating Sustainability website.

The conference also will feature sessions led by Susan Gentile from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Gentile works with an AASHE program called STARS, the Sustainability Tracking and Rating System, which is used to assess sustainability efforts on individual campuses and provide benchmarks for comparisons among campuses.

“STARS applies to energy, to food, to waste, and there is a section specifically on curriculum,” Jensen said. “I’m hearing from faculty asking, ‘How do we evaluate our courses?’ At the conference, she will talk about what’s working on campuses, and then facilitate some discussions in which people can provide feedback on the STARS assessment tool.”

The conference program will include a mix of disciplinary discussions and break-out sessions on a range of topics, including:

  • Resources for teaching sustainability within each discipline and focused discussion on successful pedagogical strategies within the discipline;
  • Specific examples of sustainability-themed courses;
  • Sessions on place-based learning, assessment and student learning outcomes, sustainability within general education, using campus operations as a teaching tool, and sustainability related research; and
  • Resources on faculty development focused on sustainability and successful strategies for developing a plan to reach more faculty.

For Jensen and the other leaders of the Integrating Sustainability project, an important goal is to build on the work done so far, both on ACM campuses and at other institutions. They have begun planning to maintain connections among ACM faculty and to expand the reach of the project through partnerships with organizations such as the Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability (UMACS).

“We hope people head back to their own campuses energized by this work and feeling like they have more resources now for improving their own courses, as well as for working with other faculty on their campus to do more sustainability,” Jensen said. “They know where they can look online to get information they can use in their own courses. They’ve been to a session that helps them know how to run a faculty development workshop on their own campus. They have a better sense of how they can use this STARS benchmarking to be able to work on things on their own campus.”

“The judge of success will largely be whether the people who come as attendees leave with a clear plan of action for their own work going forward,” Jensen concluded.


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