By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Resource Center
Faculty from more than a dozen different departments came together on Monday to collaborate and discover ways to elevate sustainability teaching at the University of Utah.
The group met as part of the Wasatch Experience: Teaching Sustainability program, a new effort led by faculty from the Sustainability Office to promote sustainability teaching, discuss differing perspectives, and expand the U’s faculty sustainability network. Faculty members from across campus applied earlier this summer to participate in the Wasatch Experience program.
Steve Burian, professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, was one of the creators of the Wasatch Experience. The Wasatch Experience will help faculty “infuse sustainability across curriculum in creative ways,” he says. The goal, he says, is to help students learn and obtain a better grasp on sustainability issues that they can apply in their lives and careers.
During Monday’s discussion, part of a two-day workshop to kick-start the program, it was clear that one of the strengths of the group was the diversity of backgrounds. Disciplines represented included philosophy, mechanical engineering, ethnic studies, film, law, materials science, theater, anthropology, city planning, and many others.
Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, was among the presenters at Monday’s workshop. She described the workshop attendees as a “really interesting cross-section of our campus.”
Watkins spoke with the group members about the values the University of Utah instills in its students and what it means to be a “literate citizen in the 20th century.” Students need exposure to sustainable thinking, she says. Professors need that same exposure, and members of the Wasatch Experience group can proactively work with their peers to share and embed knowledge on how sustainability relates to a specific discipline, she says.
Adrienne Cachelin, assistant professor of Environmental & Sustainability Studies, said the definitions of sustainability brought by each department created interesting discussions about values.
“Everybody has a different piece of the (sustainability) definition, and integration is necessary,” she says.
The workshop is the first activity for the Wasatch Experience program. During the two-day event, participants will learn about different approaches and challenges to teaching sustainability, as well as learn about on-and off-campus opportunities. Throughout the 2014-15 school year, participants will continue to connect to share ideas, create new learning activities, and develop modified courses that incorporate sustainability into the curriculum.
Ayrel Clark-Proffitt is the education & outreach coordinator for the Sustainability Resource Center.