Spring 2010 Provost's Seminar Fosters Interdisciplinary Discussions about Teaching Sustainability at U-M

Lisa A. Pappas
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  • “Colleges throughout the university are going through a curriculum reform to make sustainability a higher priority, and I’m glad to see so many deans from those colleges here today. I really think we’re moving in the right direction.”
  • “I finally connected with another faculty member I’ve been wanting to collaborate with on a program related to sustainability. I’ve seen her from a distance, but we finally met here at the Provost Seminar.”
  • “I have been interested in the topic of sustainability for some time, and the Provost Seminar lectures and round-table discussions opened up new approaches to the subject for me.”
  • “The most important message I heard today was that students are hungry for more courses on sustainability. I’m really glad to see the university expanding on this important and legitimate area of academic teaching and research.”

These are just some of the comments from nearly 200 faculty members, lecturers, and administrators who participated in the Provost’s Seminar on Teaching Sustainability at the Michigan League on Tuesday, May 11, 2010.

The seminar opened with a poster fair organized by the Student Sustainability Initiative to feature innovative U-M courses and teaching strategies on sustainability. The event also included faculty panel presentations and roundtable forums, where participants discussed the meaning of sustainability in their areas of expertise, potential goals for student learning regarding sustainability, and teaching strategies for actively engaging students in sustainability issues.

“Attendance for this event illustrates the degree of enthusiasm across campus for discussing sustainability education,” says Constance Cook, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Executive Director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), which organized and hosted the event. “People are clearly eager to talk about sustainability and how to integrate it into their teaching and the curriculum.”

The title of this Provost’s Seminar was “Dialogues on Teaching Sustainability: Where Music Meets Medicine, Engineering Meets Politics, the Humanities Meet Business, etc.” Following a welcome message from Provost Theresa Sullivan, Donald Scavia, Special Counsel to the President for Sustainability and Graham Family Professor of Environmental Sustainability, delivered a keynote address on “Mapping the Terrain: The Role of Teaching in U-M’s Sustainability Initiative,” in which he provided an overview of the U-M sustainability initiative and described the critical importance of advancing curricular efforts to prepare U-M students to become tomorrow’s sustainability leaders. 

According to Chad Hershock, Ph.D., an Assistant Director at the CRLT, the roundtable discussions and interactive sessions helped to foster a productive dialog among participants. 

“The seminar gave participants an opportunity to engage with each other in a way that doesn’t typically occur in the regular course of a day on campus—particularly for faculty members from a variety of disciplines to sit together and discuss their teaching,” he says.

“For example, I saw faculty from Architecture and Urban Planning talking to faculty from Theatre, Music, and Dance, and LS&A about how to make role-playing activities and case study discussions more successful in the classroom. This kind of cross-disciplinary dialog about teaching and learning is very important, especially for the topic of sustainability.”

Among the highlights of the day was a speech by Lydia McMullen-Laird, an undergraduate student in the Ford School of Public Policy and board member for the Student Sustainability Initiative, who spoke passionately about the importance of escalating sustainability education at the university.

“Student interest in sustainability is widespread and filled with passion and inspiration,” Lydia said in her address, which also included videotaped comments from other U-M students. “It’s not just students from the Program in the Environment and the School of Natural Resources who are excited about sustainability. Engineers, writers, architects, business students, social scientists, humanists, artists, and students from all disciplines are looking for courses to take that will give them an opportunity to learn about how sustainability can, and should be, integrated into their future careers.”

To learn more about the Provost’s Seminar, the presenters and participants, and what goals and observations they garnered from the event, please visit the CRLT website at http://www.crlt.umich.edu/faculty/sustainability.php.