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New Pilot-Course Addresses Sustainability in the 21st Century

By Sustainability Office on December 1, 2016
-Jackson Lucas ‘17

For the five weeks leading up to Thanksgiving Break, a small group of students met every Tuesday evening in a quiet corner classroom on the second floor of McGregory to engage in dialogue often underrepresented on this campus: sustainability.

This pilot course, titled ‘Foundations of Sustainability’, facilitated by Green Raider Interns Grace Thomas (’17), Jackson Lucas (’17), and Fiona Adjei Boateng (’19) resembled a small-group, seminar-style discussion. This course, inspired by a summer seminar for staff and faculty, allowed students to receive P.E. credit in exchange for their weekly participation.

Short term, long term and lifetime goals students committed to during the final week of class.

Short-term, long-term and lifetime goals students committed to during the final week of class.

“I learned that there are passionate and engaged individuals looking to make a change who are right here on campus”, said one student in a post-course survey. The course challenged students to see sustainability through a variety of lenses and to think about ways in which their personal choices impact the environment.

The first four weeks covered a variety of topics including climate change, food and environmental justice, while the fifth and final week focused on applying learned concepts to the Colgate community and daily life. Week one introduced sustainability and examined the historic relationship between civilizations and the environment. In subsequent weeks, the class focused on the material economy and personal consuming habits, sustainability in the social realm, environmental racism, and climate refugees – new topics for many of the students that added to their understanding of sustainability. Students also challenged their thinking about food, and were engaged in dialogues about organic and locally grown food, genetically modified crops, meat, and food access. In the final week, students focused on how their actions affect the environment and determined short-term an long-term goals to live a more sustainable lifestyle. 

These dialogues were small and intimate, with student’s bringing perspectives from across the United States and abroad. Disagreements were frequent and required students to deconstruct and unlearn many of the lifestyle habits and understandings that they had unknowingly brought into the space with them. At the end of each evening session, students were asked to checkout from the space and think about the reactions and experiences that had been shared. 

“I really liked this course because it gave me the motivation to understand sustainability, think of ways to be sustainable and applying these methods to myself while encouraging others to do so,” stated a student in a post-course survey. This course allowed students to engage with materials and subject matter outside of their normal classroom curriculum in a workshop-style setting. Despite being the first session available to students, the Office of Sustainability is already looking for ways to expand the conversations had within the course outward into the greater Colgate community. One student asked in a post-course evaluation if it was “possible to work towards including this course in the core curriculum?” One of the many goals the Office of Sustainability has is for Colgate to implement conversations regarding sustainability into the classroom, Foundations of Sustainability being a great first step.

This course will be offered again in the spring semester for P.E. credit and general educational enrichment.