University looks to expand sustainability in classrooms

The University is considering increasing its eco-friendly course offerings as part of a larger initiative to develop a culture geared toward sustainability.

Provost Steven Lerman appointed a 20-person faculty committee with representatives from the 10 GW schools and colleges to examine sustainability in the University’s curriculum. The group will present its recommendations in the spring.

“Sustainability is one of [University] President [Steven] Knapp’s top priorities, and we hope to incorporate this important initiative into our curriculum in a way that is accessible to all students and provides education relevant to health, science, policy, engineering, business and society,” Forrest Maltzman, senior vice provost for academic affairs and planning, said.

The University offers more than 100 courses that address sustainability and 30 “green leaf” courses, which have a significant eco-focus.

Green leaf classes include oceanography, geology of energy resources and international affairs special topics courses in development.

“Employers today are seeking employees who can understand and communicate issues about sustainability, and we hope to prepare our students to address these needs,” Maltzman said.

Lisa Benton-Short, an associate professor of geography, is chairing the faculty committee.

“We are in the early stages of brainstorming about how we can encourage faculty to develop and redevelop courses that have some of the components of sustainability,” she said. “Many of the large scale research grants are looking for interdisciplinary teams. This is a challenge for sustainability research.”

Benton-Short hopes the expansion of green leaf courses will link schools across GW.

School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno, who founded the green social network Planet Forward in 2009, discussed incorporating sustainability into GW’s curriculum in a closed session of the Board of Trustees meeting last month. Sesno teaches a video production class in which students submit pieces for the organization’s website.

“The global paradigm we have known may be changing, and I think this University has an incredible opportunity to equip its students and its scholars with the disciplines, the knowledge and the skills to help navigate our way through these changes,” he said.

As part of Knapp’s green focus, the Office of Sustainability’s staff has grown, as have University initiatives to build sustainable buildings and parks on campus.

GW vaulted to No. 30 in this year’s Sierra Club rating of the nation’s environmentally-friendly schools.

Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of the Office of Sustainability, said curricula represent just one part of its efforts.

“We look forward to working collaboratively across the University to build GW’s competencies and to find ways to integrate our activities on campus with learning opportunities,” she said.

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