Amy Shachter discussing how Santa Clara University incorporates sustainability across its curriculum.

Webinar of the Week: Integrating Sustainability Across the Curriculum

During the 15th annual SENCER Summer Institute, SENCER Co-PI and SCI-MidAtlantic co-director Monica Devanas and her assistant Yuxi Chen captured film footage of various talks and presentations. This series highlights the collection, packaged as webinars, to spark ideas and inspiration, share knowledge and strategies, and celebrate the wide-ranging and deep-reaching work performed by our SENCER community.

In this webinar, Amy Shachter, Senior Associate Provost for Research and Faculty Affairs of Santa Clara University, SENCER Co-Principal Investigator, and SCI-West co-director, describes how her institution strategically implemented themes of sustainability into courses across the Santa Clara curriculum.

Santa Clara uses its Penstemon Project, founded by John Farnsworth, a senior lecturer in Santa Clara’s Environmental Studies and Science Department, to help “faculty outside of the traditional environmentally-focused disciplines find ways to incorporate sustainability into their curriculum—either as class content or in the way their class functions.”

The project evolved through three phases.

Phase I targeted faculty already interested in and inclined to integrate their courses with sustainability. Thus, Amy describes Phase I as the “low hanging fruit” phase. In this phase, faculty voluntarily attended two-day summer workshops on how to integrate sustainability into the curriculum.

Phase II moved “higher up the tree,” so to speak, by incentivizing more faculty to attend one-day workshops held during the academic year. Each participating faculty member received an iPad and was given instructions on how to use the iPad for education and in their sustainability courses.

In Phase III, Santa Clara “harvested the orchard,” reaching faculty across campus to achieve transformational change. To accomplish this, a department-based initiative was launched aimed at creating departmental buy in and commitment.

Santa Clara’s Center for Sustainability hired student interns to determine the percentage of courses within each department that had a sustainability focus. The student data were shared with the departments, who performed their own self-assessment comparisons. As a result, departments came away with a thorough understanding of how well they integrated sustainability, and were motivated to have intradepartmental discussions about what more they could do. Departments set their own goals for expanding their sustainability-themed course offerings, and faculty received summer stipends to develop new courses to help reach their goals.

Later in the webinar, Amy shares a number of SENCER curricular models that can help others incorporate sustainability into their courses, including Chemistry and the Environment, a SENCER model course she developed in 2001. Amy’s model is a projects-based, non-science majors environmental chemistry course with the goal of providing recommendations to the university to improve sustainability on campus.

Amy’s other model recommendations include:

  1. Brownfield Action by Peter Bower of Barnard College/Columbia University
  2. Climate Change Science and Economics by Denise Eby Konan and Julia M. Morgan of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
  3. Energy and the Environment by Trace Jordan of New York University
  4. Environment and Disease by Michael F. Tibbets of Bard College
  5. Global Warming by Sharon Anthony and Sonja Wiedenhaupt of The Evergreen State College
  6. Pollinators: A Case Study in Systems Thinking and Sustainability by Susan H. Cusato and Suzanne Huminski of Southern Connecticut State University
  7. Renewable Environment: Transforming Urban Neighborhoods by Steven Bachofer and Phylis Cancilla Martinelli of St. Mary’s College
  8. Slow Food by Marion Field Fass of Beloit College
  9. Sustainability and Human Health: A Learning Community by Donald Stearns and Kim Worthy of Wagner College
  10. The Power of Water by Alix D. Dowling Fink and Michelle L. Parry of Longwood University

Watch Amy’s webinar to learn more about how Santa Clara University achieved campus-wide integration of sustainability across the curriculum. To get a closer look at Amy’s presentation, you can also access her slides.

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