University of Vermont

University Communications

Sustainability Faculty Fellows Program Concludes Inaugural Year

Release Date: 03-31-2010

Author: Jeffrey R. Wakefield
Email: Jeffrey.Wakefield@uvm.edu
Phone: 802/656-2005 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Twelve faculty members recently met at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) on the third floor of Bailey-Howe library to share a lunch of hearty Indian food, a good measure of camaraderie, and -- not surprising for a group of university faculty -- a round-robin series of packed full PowerPoint presentations.

The meeting culminated the inaugural year of UVM's new Sustainability Faculty Fellows program, which provides support for faculty across a range of disciplines, including some unexpected ones, who want to infuse sustainability themes and content into their teaching.

In addition to disciplines like environmental science and environmental studies, faculty in English, psychology, philosophy, business, engineering, nursing, geography and chemistry participated in the program, most of whom were represented at the CTL lunch.

The notion of sustainability is broadly conceived in the fellows program, encompassing economic and social dimensions, as well as environmental ones.

Faculty presentations covered lessons learned but focused predominantly on how they plan to modify their courses in the fall to accommodate sustainability topics.

The Sustainability Faculty Fellows program grew out of a seminar sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) that Stephanie Kaza, director of UVM's Environmental Program, and Wendy Verrei-Berenback, director of the CTL, attended in January 2009. One of AASHE's goals is to help institutions incorporate sustainability issues into their academic programs.

"We came back thinking, 'We should do this; it's not that hard to do at UVM,'" Kaza says.

It was also important. "UVM's commitment to greening its curriculum needs to be as strong as its commitment to greening our buildings," Kaza says. "In fact, we are required to develop sustainability education initiatives for the American College and University President's Climate Commitment that President Fogel signed on to last year."

Kaza and Verrei-Berenback widened their partnership to include the university's new Office of Sustainability and GreenHouse, UVM's environmentally themed residential learning community. The GreenHouse director, Walter Poleman, also invited Shelburne Farms, a leader in K-12 sustainability education, to participate as a partner.

The group took as its model other successful programs at UVM that bring faculty from different disciplines together for learning exchanges: the Service Learning fellows program offered by the CUPS office, the faculty seminar sponsored each summer by the Honors College, and the Writing in the Disciplines program.

After a semester of planning, the group invited faculty to apply for the program in September. They received 25 applications, 16 of which were accepted. The program was supported with an Instructional Incentive Grant from the provost's office.

Fellows met over two lunches during the fall and participated in an intensive two-day seminar at Shelburne Farms in January. They also exchanged emails and posts on the group's dedicated Blackboard site.

Sustainability Fellow Tyler Doggett, an assistant philosophy professor whose research focuses on ethics, decided to target a large lecture course he recently began teaching, the Ethics of Eating, for enhanced sustainability content.

In the past, 75 percent of the course was focused on the ethics of raising and killing animals, a provocative topic students naturally gravitated toward. Two other subtopics in the course, equally important in Doggett's mind, tended to get less attention: the ethics of organic food and the ethics of local food.

One reason for the lack of sub-topic symmetry was that Doggett didn't feel he knew enough about organics or local food production to do them justice.

"I didn't feel I had nearly enough empirical knowledge," he says.

The fellows program gave him the opportunity to exchange information with experts -- plant and soil science assistant professor Ernesto Mendez, for example, who studies organics. The program also put him in touch with a reference librarian at Bailey-Howe who uncovered a wealth of helpful resources.

The course he now plans will divvy up its three main topics equally.

The fellowship also had a number of positive unintended consequences for him. "Pedagogically, it was great," says Doggett, who picked up several teaching tips from the fellows. "It was also really stimulating to learn about research projects of other people. And personally, it was really nice to meet all these people who share a common interest" outside his home department.

The program plans to offer a second round of fellowships in the fall.