Students and faculty work together to make courses sustainable

Six students worked with 10 faculty members this summer as part of the Integrating Sustainability Across the Curriculum program

· January 16, 2013, 1:01 am

The environmental impact of Hey Day may not be something most students think about.

Students and faculty considered this question and others as part of the Integrating Sustainability Across the Curriculum program this summer.

ISAC, which was developed and funded by the Academics Subcommittee of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee, is a program that pairs members of faculty with summer student interns to research sustainability as it relates to the course material and incorporate it into the curriculum.

This past summer, ISAC had six students working with 10 faculty members. Most students worked with two faculty members each for approximately 40 hours each week.

The idea for the program came from Jane Dmochowski, managing director of the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research, and Ann Greene, an associate director for the undergraduate department of History and Sociology of Science, after they attended a conference hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

The two brought the program to the Academics Subcommittee of ESAC, and it was implemented for the first time this summer.

“The reason we settled on this relatively quickly was that Penn has such a great tradition of using and engaging undergrads,” Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Dan Garofalo said.

One of the participating professors was Economics 001 lecturer Rebecca Stein.

Stein, who heard about ISAC from an email that was sent to the entire faculty, was excited to join the program.

“It would be a way of engaging [students] with the material,” she said. “Also it was a way for me to review my whole course and rethink it.”

However, she found that she wasn’t able to incorporate sustainability into her economics course as much as she would have liked.

“I think it is mostly because the economics discipline hasn’t really incorporated issues of sustainability yet,” Stein said.

Another participating member of the faculty was Felicity Paxton, director of the Penn Women’s Center, who worked to incorporate sustainability into her course “Critical Approaches to Popular Culture.” Paxton worked with College junior Lauren Kaufmann, and together,. they were able to calculate the environmental cost of Hey Day and the average wedding.

“By the end of the summer, I had made new friends, completed an exciting intellectual journey through an entire field of scholarship, and created an entirely new Earth and Environmental Science syllabus from scratch,” Kaufmann said of her experience.

Professor Franca Trubiano decided to use ISAC to integrate her construction technology course with College senior Mary Tsai. Together, they worked to calculate the environmental impact of basic construction materials.

“I chose to participate because sustainability is an important issue in my major, architecture, and I really learned a lot from my research that I did for both the professors,” Tsai said.

The deadline for faculty to apply to the ISAC program is Jan. 31, and the deadline for students will be in late February.

The program has received acclaim from both participants and students.

“Participating in ISAC as a research scholar was the first experience I’ve had at Penn that truly allowed me to give back to the university in such a tangible way,” said Kaufmann.

Stein added, “I think it’s a cost effective way of encouraging faculty to think about sustainability and integrate it into the curriculum.”

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