The University will launch a sustainability minor this fall – the first program of its kind to cut across school boundaries and be housed in the Office of the Provost.
In conjunction with the undergraduate minor, five new green-minded classes will be offered this fall, including the first-ever course to be taught by a team of professors based in different schools.
“I get excited about new ways that we teach students. In the past, we have been held back by an institutional structure that did not encourage interdisciplinary teaching, but having schools working together in this way has been extremely exciting,” Forrest Maltzman, senior vice provost for academic affairs and planning, said.
Provost Steven Lerman said he hopes interdisciplinary work among schools will serve as a model for future programs, including entrepreneurship and security studies.
Similar to other minors, the sustainability program will require 18 credit hours, with a minimum of six credit hours completed outside a student’s home school and discipline. Lerman said the University hesitated to make sustainability a major, citing concerns that the field is most useful when paired with another practical subject.
Students who complete the minor will be required to take one class from each of three tracks: environmental and earth systems; society and sustainability; and policy, organization and leadership. Developing interdisciplinary studies is a focus of the strategic plan that will lay out the University’s academic priorities for the next decade, Lerman announced Feb. 10. The Science and Engineering Hall, which will open in 2015, will be home to collaborative lab space to encourage cross-disciplinary research.
“A sustainability issue is never isolated within a particular sector: the corporate sector, the public sector, the NGO sector. And it’s never isolated in terms of science or policy, so it was a natural fit,” Director of the Office of Sustainability Meghan Chapple-Brown said.
A 23-member sustainability committee comprising faculty from nine of GW’s 10 schools contributed to the development of the minor after the Board of Trustees challenged University leaders to “think big about sustainability” last spring, Lisa Benton-Short, associate professor of geography and the program’s first academic director, said.
“We think it’s a pretty innovative way of introducing students to sustainability and one that will appeal to students across different schools and disciplines,” Benton-Short said.
Students will also be tasked with completing an experiential learning project, including research, study abroad or internships.
The culminating experience will provide students with real-world applications of their sustainability knowledge, Chapple-Brown said. She cited a 2011 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that found demand for sustainability-educated graduates will increase significantly in the next decade.
Introduction to Sustainability will be taught by a team of professors from different schools within the University, who will each discuss a sustainable issue from their discipline's perspective during different class periods. The inaugural section of the class is capped at 100 students.
This is the first time nationwide that a sustainability course will be taught this way, Beanton-Short said, citing research conducted by the Office of Sustainability this summer.
All of the courses included in the sustainability minor have a green leaf designation, indicating that they address issues in social, economic or environmental sustainability.
Since fall 2010, about 60 green leaf courses have been marked at the undergraduate level. An additional 30 existing classes are awaiting confirmation that they meet the required green leaf sustainability focus, Benton-Short said.
To expand classes within the three tracks of the sustainability minor, the University will award four $2,500 grants to faculty to develop new green leaf courses to launch in the fall.