AASHE and the Sustainability Curriculum

May 5, 2011

By Paul Rowland, Executive Director, AASHE

(This article appears in the May, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Despite the progress being made to ensure that campuses reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, we still have far too many students leaving our campuses not understanding that they need to envision climate neutral professional and personal lifestyles. Even at ACUPCC signatory campuses where the leadership has committed to “Actions to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experiences for all students,” there has been greater difficulty in ensuring that these comprehensive curricular changes occur than it has been to implement renewable energy technologies.

Recognizing the difficulty of curricular change, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has had a goal of “at least 10% of the courses offered at American colleges and universities will enable students to synthesize an understanding of environmental, economic, and social forces of change and apply that understanding to real world problems.” The early efforts of AASHE were embodied in a combination of professional development through the Sustainability Across the Curriculum Leadership Workshops led by Geoff Chase and Peggy Barlett and elements of the AASHE Resource Center that pointed to a variety of syllabi, course inventories, programs, case studies, and other materials related to the curricular aspects of sustainability education. The workshops have been successful in spawning a number of workshops on campuses, some of them featured in the resource center.

These efforts have been successful in reaching thousands of faculty and have resulted in changes in thousands of courses. However, the commitment of reaching all students will require a far greater effort involving many more faculty – probably more than 150,000. Recognizing the need to reach much greater numbers of faculty, AASHE, with support from the ACUPCC and Second Nature, convened a group of leaders in sustainability education and higher education reform at a Summit on Sustainability in the Curriculum in February 2010. The conversations and recommendation of the summit were summarized by Geoff Chase and myself in Sustainability Curriculum in Higher Education: A Call to Action.

Based on the recommendations of the Call to Action, AASHE re-evaluated its efforts in the curricular aspects of campus sustainability and increased its resources to implement a far-reaching sustainability education program. In early 2011, AASHE hired Cindy Thomashow as its first Education Manager to plan and implement a program that includes many of the recommendations from the Call to Action including an AASHE Faculty Fellows Program, an electronic curriculum resource commons, and regional curriculum workshops.

Testing the regional workshop waters, AASHE partnered with the Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability (UMACS) to hold a Faculty Leadership in Sustainability workshop for that region at University of Wisconsin—River Falls. Jon Jensen and Jim Farrell, both known for their sustainability education efforts both on their own and other campuses, facilitated a successful workshop with about 20 participants. Like the national workshops, this regional workshop invited participation from faculty who were interested in leading sustainability education on their home campuses. The participants explored the meaning of sustainability in their teaching, techniques for integrating sustainability into courses, and challenges and strategies for providing campus leadership. AASHE intends to find additional partners for regional workshops so we can increase our support for faculty while reducing both the cost and the carbon footprint associated with our national curriculum workshops.

In October 2010, AASHE held a Curriculum Convocation prior to the AASHE Conference and during the conference hosted a Curriculum Luncheon. Both of these events were very well attended and provided opportunities for faculty and others to connect with one another around substantive curricular issues. AASHE is planning to repeat these activities at AASHE2011 in Pittsburgh.

As AASHE continues to develop both face-to-face and electronic forums for discussion of curricular issues, we continue to recognize the importance of assisting campuses in finding ways to incorporate climate and sustainability education for all students. As the Call to Action indicates, we need to be using existing leverage points like the need for student learning outcomes, assessments, accreditation, and high impact educational practices to extend the conversation throughout the campus. In addition, we need to be making accessible existing materials as well as creating new materials that will help faculty develop educational experiences that will ensure students understand climate neutrality and sustainability.

Finally, we are working with our colleagues in the Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium (HEASC) to develop strategies for using the campus as a living, learning laboratory for campus sustainability curricula. Through these efforts we hope to provide tools for both the operations and administration side of the campus and the academic side of the campus to work together on campus sustainability.

AASHE looks forward to playing an important role in helping ACUPCC campuses meet their curricular commitments to ensure that their graduates have the knowledge, skills and disposition to create professional and personal climate neutral, sustainable worlds.



May 9, 2011 at 5:59 am

I laud AASHE's commitment to reach ALL students with a curriculum that successfully integrates climate and sustainability. BuildingGreen Suite is a resource subscribed to by over 100 colleges and universities that provides relevant articles about the design and construction of our built environment as it relates to sustainability. I am always struck by how many faculty and students are unaware that this useful online resource is available to them. Click on this map to see if your campus library subscribes:https://www.buildinggreen.com/ecommerce_forms/campuswide/index.html or contact Jerelyn@BuildingGreen.com

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