Novel methods for incorporating sustainability into curriculum

Workshop introduces faculty to methods toward incorporating sustainability initiatives into their courses and communicating their importance to their students.

Once a zombie apocalypse has ravaged a town, remaining survivors must band together if they want to rebuild and salvage what is left.

A reliable method to assure the survival of their “rag-tag, post-zombie apocalypse community,” is to design and employ sustainable practices, said Tay Keong Tan, Ph.D., director of Radford University’s Leadership Studies and International Studies and associate professor of political science.

To encourage his students to think more about sustainable practices, Tan has created a series of three zombie exercises to use in his international studies capstone on sustainable development (INST 490) and a political science seminar on international political development (POSC 463).

“I had always wanted to introduce sustainability into my courses,” he said, “because the topics of climate change, poverty, gender equality, corruption, etc., are now at the forefront of the global development agenda.”

Tan is not alone among Radford University faculty when it comes to exploring ways to introduce sustainability initiatives into their courses and communicate the importance to their students. He was among 20 faculty who participated recently the Sustainability Across Curriculum workshop, held on campus and hosted by the University’s Sustainability Office.

It was the second such workshop for faculty – the first was held in 2017.

The workshop reflects Radford University’s commitment to sustainability practices and underscores its mission toward becoming a model of practices and policies. Radford has been included in The Princeton Review’s Top Green Colleges in the nation each year since 2010.

This year, participating faculty received a $250 stipend from the University’s Office of High Impact Practices to help develop curriculum.

“The goal of the workshop is to support faculty in integrating sustainability into their curriculum,” said the University’s Sustainability Manager Josh Nease. “This year, we encouraged curriculum integration through the idea of project-based learning and partnerships and collaborations.”

Faculty participants were asked to submit a plan stating how they plan to integrate initiatives through these methods.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sarah Kennedy, Ph.D., wasted no time organizing a strategy. She teaches green chemistry and attended the workshop to meet colleagues and community members who are exploring and working on sustainability-related issues and developing partnerships and collaborative coursework.

Kennedy plans to explore collaborations to group together her green chemistry students with students in a marketing course taught by Associate Professor of Marketing Jane Machin, Ph.D.

“This could take the form of green chemistry students creating case studies on green chemistry and then working with marketing students to help us think about how we could prepare these materials for education consumers,” Kennedy said.

Her course is mainly project-based, she said, so also “a connection with the Radford city government seems natural, too.”

Kennedy plans to explore a collaboration with Professor of English Rick Van Noy, Ph.D., who is the author of the recently released “Sudden Spring: Stories of Adaptation in a Climate Changed South,” which features stories of people and places adapting to the impacts of a warmer climate in the southeastern United States.

Van Noy, who has led a campus-wide effort to create a Green Leaf sustainability designation for all qualifying courses, is also developing ideas for his spring 2020 environmental literature class. He wants to work with his students to “add depth,” he said, to the campus map of trees produced a few years ago by Instructor of Biology John Kell.

“It would create a layer of how these trees have been important to literature, history and folklore,” Van Noy said. “Call it The Radford Book of Trees. We would create a book of this information about trees that stated where they are on campus, their history, if we can find out, and how they have shown up in literature.”

One class exercise would involve students reading poems and stories that mention trees. For example, Robert Frost’s “Birches,” Van Noy said. “We have a birch by Muse Hall.

“I want students to have a greater ability to identify trees and to know more about their specific context in an environment,” Van Noy said. “Trees can provide air conditioning, and they absorb carbon.”

While working with Kell on the book project, Van Noy said he would seek collaboration with Stockton Maxwell, Ph.D, an associate professor of Geospatial Science, whose research focuses on forest ecology and dendrochronology.

Planning course initiatives and collaborations and brainstorming ideas was an integral component to the workshop for participants, as was learning from City of Radford officials about how they could work with Radford University toward long-term sustainability goals.

Participants also heard from guest speakers who talked about using the campus as a sustainable living lab for project-based learning. Van Noy’s planned book about campus trees is an “excellent example,” Nease said.

“It was really exciting for me to see faculty from all the colleges and so many disciplines participate in the workshop, getting together and looking together at problems dealing with sustainability and working to develop possible solutions by applying their expertise,” Nease said. “That is where cross-disciplinary collaborations can be very beneficial.”

The future of the world depends on it, Tan explained.

“The fate of future generations,” he said, “is at stake in the ways we deal with sustainability today.”


Jun 21, 2019
Chad Osborne