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3 Strengthening Sustainability Programs Academic institutions play a critical role in meeting Earthâs sustainability challenges, with the potentialâand imperativeâto have a larger impact in the years to come. As described in Chapter 2, U.S. colleges and universities currently offer a variety of sustainability programs within a range of institutional arrange- ments. Workshop participants reflected this variety: they represented faculty, administrators, and undergraduate/graduate students from private colleges and state universities who were connected with discrete schools of sustainability or those within larger science, engineering, or social science units. Many noted the need to introduce sustainability concepts to students majoring/minoring in the field and also to those in other disciplines. Some students matriculate with plans to major or minor in the field, while others discover it when they get to campus. With interest high among current and incoming students and the ever-increasing need to balance societal trajectories between the lower bounds for human well- being and the upper environmental planetary boundaries, many higher educa- tion institutions are looking to create or expand their sustainability education programs and offerings. INSTITUTION-WIDE CONSIDERATIONS A symposium convened through the American Association for the Advance- ment of Science in 2015 took an institution-wide view of the successful design and implementation of sustainability programs (Hart et al., 2016). Five broad parameters, echoed in different ways by the symposium participants, provide a starting point from which to consider the specifics of what a sustainability pro- 59
60 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA gram could offer. These parameters articulated by symposium participants are summarized as follows: 1. Universities must realize that emphasizing solutions is essential when studying sustainability problems. 2. Building effective interdisciplinary collaborations in sustainability pro- grams is challenging but must start early. 3. Academic efforts will be misaligned, misallocated, and mistaken in the absence of productive stakeholder partnerships. 4. The path to solutions requires innovation, risk tolerance, and persistence. 5. Universities must apply their research strengths to examine institutional initiatives and develop evidence-based principles to guide institutional transformation. A common theme across these parameters is that leadership and support from the top is keyâby university presidents, chancellors, deans, directors, and boards. Leadership commitment to sustainability can facilitate the interdisciplin- ary collaboration so vital to the field; provide resources, including support for underrepresented minority groups; and encourage innovation (Gordon et al., 2019; Boone et al., 2020). Although many higher education institutions are looking to create or expand their sustainability programs, they often lack a clearly articulated statement about how they will deliver on that goal. The importance of support from top leader- ship and the growing interest in sustainability-related curricular offerings in higher education institutions leads the committee to three key areas of focus for sustainability education: competencies, content, and contextual application. The remainder of this chapter covers these aspects in greater detail. COMPETENCIES AND CAPACITIES FOR SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION The growth in sustainability programs at colleges and universities and the de- mand for graduates of these programs has led to concerted efforts to define the key competencies that sustainability graduates should acquire. The effort aligns with broader work to define competencies for 21st century learning. Recent work has also begun to highlight the importance of collective capacities that may enable sustain- ability transitions. It is imperative for learners to acquire both individually focused competencies through higher education coursework and curricula, and work toward the organizational and societal capacities necessary for sustainability pathways. Wiek et al. (2011, 204) define competencies as âa functionally linked com- plex of knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable successful task performance and problem solving.â Within this definition, different fields have defined core competencies or program-learning outcomes that students should have after com-
STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS 61 pleting their programs of studies. Different researchers and organizations have identified at least eight key competencies as critical to advance sustainability: systems thinking competency, anticipatory competency, normative competency, strategic competency, collaboration competency, critical thinking competency, self-awareness competency, and integrated problem-solving competency (de Haan, 2010; Rieckmann, 2012; UNESCO, 2017; Wiek et al., 2011). As competencies for sustainability reference the forms of awareness, knowl- edge, and learning necessary for students to acquire and act, a related review by Clark and Harley (2020) highlights collective and organizational capacities neces- sary for transitions toward greater sustainability. Capacity here refers to the inten- tion, ability, and competence to act effectively (Franks, 1999; van Kerkhoff and Lebel, 2015; Clark et al., 2016), and in this sense is complementary to sustainability competencies, which focus more on needs for individual learners. Together, they can prepare learners to achieve transitions toward greater sustainability more effectively. Clark and Harley (2020) identify seven critical capacities. They view them as collectively being likely necessary, but not sufficient, for more sustainable social-ecological trajectories of change. The seven organizational capacities are (1) the capacity to integrate research across disciplines, (2) the capacity to mea- sure sustainable development, (3) the capacity to promote equity, (4) the capacity to adapt to shocks and surprises, (5) the capacity to transform the system onto more sustainable development pathways, (6) the capacity to link knowledge with action, and (7) the capacity to devise governance arrangements that allow people to work together in exercising the other capacities. The authors identify the key characteristic of the contemporary global system as the intertwining of nature and society and focus on heterogeneity, nonlinear- ity, accumulation of power, and inequality. Based on this diagnosis, they suggest that pathways toward sustainable development are difficult to predict and require iterative strategies that combine thinking and doing. Such iterative strategies need to be dynamic, adaptive, and reflexive. Explicitly defining competencies and capacities for sustainability higher education programs can strengthen their design, implementation, and outcomes. Helping learners strengthen their competencies for societal transitions can enable more effective societal sustainability outcomes. We accordingly discuss several frameworks that developers and leaders of sustainability education programs can draw upon as their institutional needs and strengths allow so as to incorporate the competencies and capacities needed for stronger sustainability education. A number of studies describe the competencies needed for 21st century learners. The competency framework known as the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, or P21, highlights problem-based, cooperative, and experiential learn- ing, with a special focus on information and communication technologies.1 The 1â See Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), available at http://www.battelleforkids.org/ networks/p21, accessed on March 11, 2020.
62 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA Association of American Colleges and Universities has organized its framework around a set of âessential learning outcomesâ in four broad areas: (1) knowl- edge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, (2) intellectual and practical skills, (3) personal and social responsibility, and (4) integrative and applied learning.2 The National Research Council (NRC, 2012) defined cog- nitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal competencies: Cognitive competencies include the knowledge base of a given field, as well as critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving, spatial skills, and creativity. Interpersonal competencies include leadership, collaboration, communication, and teamwork. Intrapersonal competencies include intellectual openness (e.g., adaptability, cultural awareness, curiosity, responsibility), work ethic/conscientiousness, and self-regulation and stability. In 2018, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine developed a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, edu- cation framework for Kâ16. It does not explicitly mention sustainability, but it characterizes service or community-based learning, a hallmark of sustainability education, as a âhigh-impact practiceâ (NASEM, 2018). Sustainability education includes the arts, humanities, business, policy, and other knowledge domains in addition to STEM subjects. A substantive effort to describe competencies for sustainability education was conducted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Steer- ing Committee on Education for Sustainable Development (UNECE, 2012). In their report, the Steering Committee described the type of learning inherent in education for sustainable development and tied these principles to five broad competencies: (1) learning to know (a way of thinking), (2) learning to be (a way of being), (3) learning to live together (a way of co-existing), (4) learning to do (a way of acting), and (5) learning to transform oneself and society. Education for sustainable development connects each of these competencies (learning to know, be, live together, do, and transform) with more specific outcomes for educators related to a holistic approach, envisioning change, and achieving transformation. The resulting framework lists these outcomes as âCompetencies for Educators in Education for Sustainable Development,â which can serve as a useful reference for pedagogy (UNECE, 2012, 13). Focusing more specifically on the field of sustainability, Evans (2019) sug- gests a set of five competencies: (1) systems competency, (2) critical and norma- tive competency, (3) interpersonal and communication competency, (4) creative and strategic competency, and (5) transdisciplinary competency. In a different study, Eizaguirre et al. (2019) determines key sustainability core competencies by considering three different geographical regions (Europe, Latin America, and Central Asia) and the perspective of four different stakeholder groups (graduates, 2â See Association of American Colleges and Universities, âEssential Learning Outcomes,â available at https://www.aacu.org/leap/essential-learning-outcomes, accessed on March 11, 2020.
STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS 63 employers, students, and academics). Their assessment of stakeholder responses relies on exploratory factor analysis. They suggest factors related to sustainability include competencies such as commitment to the preservation of the environ- ment, ability to act with social responsibility, and appreciation of and respect for diversity and multiculturality, among others. During the committeeâs workshop in February 2019, Rod Parnell of Northern Arizona University and the National Council for Science and the Environment described Wiek et al. (2011) as most widely read, best synthesized, and most cited framework for sustainability competencies (Parnell and Brundiers, 2019). In the research and problem-solving framework illustrated below (see Figure 3-1), Wiek et al. (2011) âembrace the convergence that sustainability education should enable students to analyze and solve sustainability problems, to anticipate and prepare for future sustainability challenges, as well as to create and seize opportunities for sus- tainability.â Fundamental to this strategy is teaching students the skills to develop scenarios of desired, plausible futures; to explore strategies or interventions to get there; and to make sure those transitions are effective and equitable. The interven- tions must be created with sufficient knowledge of the complex socio-ecological- technical systems dynamics both past and present that can define the problem, constrain or open possible interventions, and shape the direction and magnitude of the interventions. Scenario development should also explore the implications of maintaining the status quo (counterfactual) not only to understand the relative mer- its, or demerits, of interventions, but also to define the urgency and consequences of the problem or issue (e.g., fossil fuel use and climate change) under study. All stages depend on the ability of students to effectively engage with stakeholders and seek collaborative strategies that allow for effective and equitable decisions. Wiek et al. (2011) point to five core competencies in sustainability education that can be linked to the framework and to each other (see Figure 3-2): â¢ Systems thinking competence: the ability to collectively analyze complex systems across different domains and across different scales, thereby considering cascading effects, inertia, feedback loops, and other systemic features. Educators and employers at the committeeâs workshops repeat- edly returned to the need for systems thinking as a key competency for sustainability students. Students need to understandÂ that different disci- plines that researchers integrate to address a given sustainability challenge use differentÂ research methodsâeach with different strengths and weak- nesses. Identifying synergistic combinations of different methods from different disciplines is a major part of the âartâ of sustainability research. â¢ Anticipatory competence: the ability to collectively analyze, evaluate, and craft rich âpicturesâ of the future related to sustainability issues and sustainability problem-solving frameworks. Decision science in the face of uncertainty is a key competency. These skills are tailored to address
64 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA FIGURE 3-1 Integrated sustainability research and problem-solving framework. SOURCE: Wiek et al., 2011. Reprinted with permission from Springer Nature. FIGURE 3-2 The five key competencies in sustainability (shaded in grey) as they are linked to a sustainability research and problem-solving framework described in Figure 3-1. SOURCE: Wiek et al., 2011. Reprinted with permission from Springer Nature. key issues of sustainability, including unintended harmful consequences and intergenerational equity. â¢ Normative competence: the ability to collectively map, specify, apply, reconcile, and negotiate sustainability values, principles, goals, and tar- gets. This involves applying ethical principles to available alternatives and embracing the value that sustainability is an inclusive goal involving individual, societal, and environmental well-being. It also recognizes that values guide behavior, which must be incorporated into developing effec- tive sustainability strategies. â¢ Strategic competence: the ability to collectively design and implement in- terventions, transitions, and transformative governance strategies toward sustainability. Students need to understand theory of change approaches
STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS 65 that focus on implementing solutions that have a high potential to scale up, as well as community-led design. â¢ Interpersonal competence: the ability to motivate, engage, and facilitate collaborative and participatory sustainable research and problem-solving. Workshop participants considered this a critical competence, and several objected to ascribing this competency with the descriptor of âsoft skill.â Many discussed the need for conflict management, leadership, teamwork, and inclusiveness. While critical to sustainability, the competencies are also deliberately general because of the inherent breadth of foci across different sustainability programs. Thus, developing learning activities to impart the competencies becomes the task of specific programs. An iterative Delphi study engaging 14 international experts in sustainability education have extended the original Wiek et al. (2011) framework to include an implementation competency and an intrapersonal competency or mindset as additional key sustainability competencies (Brundiers et al., 2020). Given the solutions-orientation of sustainability higher education, the expert panel argued that knowing how to successfully implement interventions is a fundamental skill. The addition of an implementation competency begins to highlight the importance of collective and organizational capacities to sustainability higher education, and makes the complementarity between competencies and capacities more visible. The intrapersonal competency or self-awareness competency is the ability to âbe aware of oneâs own emotions, desires, thoughts, behaviors, and personal- ity, as well as to regulate, motivate, and continually improve oneself drawing on competencies related to emotional intelligenceâ (Brundiers et al., 2020). The in- trapersonal competency allows students to be self-aware and position themselves in relation to others, which is critical for effective and empathetic stakeholder engagement. Sustainability competencies identified in the different sustainability educa- tion research efforts align well with each other. Given the range of key com- petencies relevant to sustainability education, no single learner can expect to become an expert across the suite of competencies. This basic fact highlights the importance of both specialization and collaboration in sustainability educa- tion and practice. Future research on sustainability education needs to assess the pattern of evolution and degree of convergence among different sustainability educators about core competencies and their relationship with capacities as the field matures. Without referring explicitly to different competency frameworks (e.g., Evans, 2019), many participants at the workshops conducted by the committee reflected similar themes. For example, one student participant considered the collaboration required across her courses as a valuable aspect of her sustainability education, while a faculty participant described designing projects that, among other things,
66 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA require students to master the strategic competence described above. End users, or employers, echoed the need for mastery of these competencies. For example, one employer said he hired staff members who can âconnect the dots,â while another participant said she needed staff members who understand how to work with people with different values and points of view, so that they âcheck their righteousness at the door to come up with solutions.â As part of the interpersonal competence described above, change management and leadership skills are in- creasingly important for sustainability professionals (see Chapter 5). Identifying core competencies for sustainability education can serve stu- dents, institutions, and the community, including employers. Wiek et al. (2011, 204) note that key competencies âprovide the reference scheme for transpar- ently evaluating student learning and teaching effectiveness,â as well as serve as a âcritical reference point for developing the ambitious knowledge and skill profile of students expected to be future âproblem solvers,â âchange agents,â and âtransition managers.ââ Specifically, defining core competencies in sustainability education can serve the following purposes: â¢ To describe how activities in sustainability programs relate to larger frameworks, including the university as a whole in its goals for general education and to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other sustainability frameworks. â¢ To guide efforts of sustainability educators in identifying learning out- comes and foci of assessments. â¢ To differentiate sustainability graduates from other interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary programs. â¢ To prepare students for careers in sustainability and to be change agents for sustainability. â¢ To reflect the demands of industry for university graduates. â¢ To conduct sustainability research as graduate students. Higher education sustainability programs that infuse their curricula with clear competency and capacity goals facilitate a shared understanding among educators, students, potential employers, and program evaluators of the intended outcomes by making these goals explicit. Thus, the committee makes the follow- ing recommendation to strengthen sustainability programs: Recommendation 3.1: Academic institutions of higher education should embrace sustainability education as a vital field that requires specifically tailored educational experiences and the development of core sustainability-focused competencies and capacities deliv- ered through courses, majors, minors, certifications, research, and graduate degrees in sustainability.
STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS 67 Implementation of this recommendation does not imply a specific curriculum or course sequence. Rather, students should engage in inclusive curricula that enable acquisition of knowledge and fluency in key core competencies, develop areas of content knowledge to the appropriate levels of breadth and depth, and have the opportunities to gain experience that helps them apply knowledge from courses in social and organizational contexts for practical insights. CONTENT AREAS IN SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION In addition to learning competencies, the committee sought to understand the content knowledge sustainability students need to learn at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Workshop participants, a review of existing programs, and com- mittee membersâ own experience suggested a range of topics that are needed to understand and address 21st century sustainability challenges. The 17 UN SDGs, which address multiple dimensions of human well-being and environmental integrity, make clear that a broad range of knowledge and skills is required to solve urgent, complex problems and develop enduring solutions at global scales. As an indication of the relevant range of expertise, sustainability programs grant bachelorâs degrees of arts, science, engineering, design, business administration, and other fields at the undergraduate level, with a similar diversity at the masterâs and doctorate levels. The range of expertise and content areas of sustainability higher education programs will also likely change over time given the ongoing rapid evolution of the sustainability field. Similar to other interdisciplinary offerings in higher education, sustain- ability programs have to grapple with the question of how to balance content depth versus breadth (Pennington et al., 2020). Typically, depth in college and university programs is associated with demonstrated expertise in specific kinds of knowledge, often defined by longstanding academic disciplines (e.g., econom- ics, biology, history). Depth can also be defined and demonstrated by mastery of specific methods (e.g., econometrics, systems modeling, spatial analysis), or forms of professional practice (e.g., architecture, accounting, surveying). Breadth is usually supported in colleges and universities by having students take courses beyond a disciplinary major that are linked thematically, often defined by gen- eral education requirements (e.g., critical thinking, literary, numeracy), to offer alternate epistemologies, viewpoints, and perspectives and to make students more âwell rounded.â Breadth is also the demonstrated ability to link and synthesize different content knowledge and build a coherent framework to better compre- hend the world. Students who have breadth strengths should be able to bridge disciplines and act as translators between experts with deep content knowledge in a specific field (Ashby and Exter, 2019). Broad interdisciplinary training is effective when learning is problem based or solutions oriented and relies on col- laboration (Brassler and Dettmers, 2017). Necessary content and depth and breadth of understanding depend in part
68 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA on the nature of sustainability programs. Degrees in sustainability typically focus on the integration of broad sets of content areas (breadth as strength), while de- grees that incorporate sustainability into existing disciplines, such as sustainable engineering, require a strong emphasis on core content (depth as strength) but learned through a sustainability lens. At the graduate level, sustainability pro- grams, which may engage students from a variety of undergraduate disciplines, have to provide a foundational understanding of sustainability principles, com- petencies, and capacities, but the expectation is for students to develop depth in specific content, methods, or approaches (including depth in specific competen- cies and capacities). For graduate programs where sustainability is an adjective to a defined discipline (e.g., sustainable architecture), depth in that discipline is expected, while sustainability can serve as a research problem framework. Figure 3-3 describes possible and approximate distribution of depth and breadth require- ments for sustainability offerings based on program design (sustainability as focal discipline or as additive to another discipline) and graduate versus undergraduate levels. All programs should provide a basic understanding of sustainability frame- works, key competencies, and capacities, and embrace interdisciplinary models of learning and inquiry. Figure 3-3 is a schema that can be used as a guide to developing sustainability curricula that reflect both breadth and depth, but there is no single approach or framework that is suitable for all programs and institutions. FIGURE 3-3 Schema for possible distribution of requirements for breadth and depth. SOURCE: Committee generated.
STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS 69 Of necessity, students in sustainability programs must choose among many important sustainability concepts and skills with the limitations on time and re- sources. Indeed, even sustainability programs may need to specialize in specific knowledge areas because sustainability connects in important ways to a vast do- main of knowledge and practice. One gap identified by workshop participants is the lack of assessment about which specific knowledge areas lead to the greatest success for the graduates, their employers, and ultimately for larger society-wide sustainability goals such as the SDGs. A suggestion from several workshop par- ticipants would be to conduct a survey along the lines of the National Science Foundationâs survey of Ph.D.s or a survey of graduates 5 years out of school to understand which content areas are serving them best in their research and prac- tice. The need for this kind of data is also discussed in Chapter 4 as part of an agenda for research on sustainability education programs. Educators and end users at the workshops shared key perspectives on valued skills in sustainability. For example, an employer at the Austin, Texas, workshop valued systems thinking and analytical skills, but also urged students to learn the history and context of sustainability while in school. This topic is rarely taught in the workplace, she noted, âin the rush to find solutions.â Considering the many advances in technology, several workshop participants noted that sustainability learners need to know data analytics, including working with big data and artificial intelligence. They do not need to be experts, one work- shop participant pointed out, but they need to understand the capabilities and have the language to interact with experts. Another participant suggested that students should become familiar with data analysis tools and their application to diagnos- ing problems and developing effective solutions for sustainability goals. At the same time, workshop participants noted that students should understand the need for transparency and the ethical dimensions of artificial intelligence and other technologies, so that âmajor social and cultural problems are not reinforced.â A recurring workshop theme was the need to embed ethics and social justice in all courses, for determining course content and for determining which voices are at the table, who is setting up and teaching a program, and whose needs are being addressed. As discussed elsewhere in this report, identifying and under- standing structural racism and discrimination, as well as the impact of varying socioeconomic backgrounds and differential access to essential human services, is essential to developing effective sustainability strategies and solutions. Several workshop participants agreed sustainability actions should authentically priori- tize and integrate Indigenous and intergenerational knowledge and culture for sustained impact. Another workshop participant recommended the teaching of sustainability principles as a core institutional requirement, no matter a studentâs area of spe- cialization, since âevery student will have to deal with sustainability in his or her lifetime.â Examples of universities that have recently added a core requirement, typically from a wide range of course options (e.g., Sustainability Science, En-
70 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA vironmental Sociology, Environmental Engineering Capstone Design), include the following: â¢ Dickinson College, Pennsylvania: requires students to take one course coded either as sustainability connections or sustainability investigation.3 â¢ Pacific University, Oregon: requires students to complete a course from an approved list or conduct a project approved by its Center for a Sustainable Society.4 â¢ University of California, Merced: requires students to fulfill a sustain- ability âintellectual experience badgeâ by completing one course or co- curricular from an approved list.5 When asked about gaps in their education, several student panelists at the Santa Cruz, California, workshop remarked on the potential trade-offs of breadth versus depth in content areas. One panelist reported that she was discouraged from taking science classes at her undergraduate institution because the intro- ductory courses were, in her view, âset up to weed out students from pre-med.â Another panelist said she consciously avoided business classes, only to find after graduation that she wished she decided otherwise given the utility of various business skills for many positions in sustainability. While beyond the scope of this report, some participants cited lifelong learning, continuing education, and executive education as strategies to provide sustainability concepts to those already in the workforce. When one workshop participant wondered whether an executive education degree would cannibalize longer, more traditional programs, an administrator whose sustainability program offers both types of programs said they appeal to different audiences and do not detract from either one. Workshop participants discussed the need to adapt courses to focus on the- matic issues, such as ecosystems and climate change, supply chain evaluation, and corporate social responsibility. As described in the proposed Higher Educa- tion Sustainability Act of 2019 (S. 2928), participants noted it would be useful for students to understand practical applications of sustainability, including âen- ergy management, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, green building, waste management, transportation, resilience, green workforce, and other aspects of sustainability that integrate the local community with multidisciplinary academic 3â See Dickinson Collegeâs requirements for degrees, available at https://www.dickinson.edu/ info/20184/academic_offices_and_resources/2945/requirements_for_the_degree, accessed on March 11, 2020. 4â See Pacific University, Oregon, sustainability requirement, available at https://www.pacificu.edu/ academics/academic-resources/core-requirements/sustainability-requirement, accessed on March 11, 2020. 5â See University of California, Merced, sustainability requirement, available at https://ge.ucmerced. edu/requirements#Badges, accessed on March 11, 2020.
STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS 71 programs and are applicable to the private and government sectors.â6 Additional information related to the legislation is described in Chapter 4. The curricula in current sustainability programs encompass a wide range of content matter, and we cannot expect students to become experts in all areas. While some students will prefer to gain knowledge about a broad number of topics in sustainability, others will prefer to specialize in more targeted areas. In both cases, sustainability students and graduates will need to collaborate with others to address sustainability challenges, which can be more easily achieved if students have a baseline understanding of various content areas relevant to sustainability, including the history of sustainability, ethics and social justice, data analytics, business administration, sustainability science, and Indigenous knowledge and culture. Students would also benefit from an understanding of relevant sustainability frameworks, including the SDGs, through which their sustainability activities may support or inform. Therefore, the committee makes the following recommendation: Recommendation 3.2: Sustainability curricula and programs in higher education should encompass key and emerging sustainability content areas to prepare students to address complex sustainabil- ity challenges in a real-world setting while incorporating problem- based and solution-oriented approaches to sustainability. CONTEXTS AND APPLICATIONS OF SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION Competencies and capacities are essential elements in curriculum design. The curricula offered to students in sustainability education programs should explicitly develop relevant, clearly defined competencies and how they relate to the coursework included in the curriculum. Through scaffolding, students can learn basic concepts and skills in their early courses and then progress to more ad- vanced concepts and applications (Lipscomb et al., 2010). Students should apply classroom learning to real-world problems to see links and build syntheses across subject matter, make inferences based on evidence and experience, envision solu- tions to sustainability challenges, and reflect on their role with collaborators in implementing these solutions. Students need to understand and navigate trade-offs and conflicts and take advantage of synergies and co-benefits when attempting to achieve societal and organizational sustainability goals, whether in focusing explicitly on the SDGs, trying to achieve a âsocially just and environmentally safe spaceâ in the Dough- nut framework, or implementing interventions to enhance other socioeconomic and environmental sustainability objectives. 6â Higher Education Sustainability Act of 2019, S.2928, 116th Congress (2019â2020), available at https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/s2928/BILLS-116s2928is.xml, accessed on June 8, 2020.
72 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA Sustainability Contexts The 1990 Talloires Declaration (see Chapter 2) called for educational strate- gies that strengthened environmental literacy, collaboration for interdisciplinary approaches, and awareness of environmentally sustainable development. Over the last three decades, interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability education programs have continued to evolve and grow in the United States (see Chapter 2). The first higher education school of sustainability opened at Arizona State University in 2006 (see Box 2-2 in Chapter 2). In the past 15 years, sustainability programs have begun to offer courses, research, and other opportunities to help students understand the constructs of the natural environment and ecosphere, the human and social environment, the built environment, the intersections and interdependencies between these environments, and the implications for sustain- able development. Balancing competing needs and perspectives through well-grounded analysis is an essential component of sustainability education. Calling for change without understanding the trade-offs can compromise sustainability efforts. Students need to understand how institutions, policies, and programs drive the types and rates of resource utilization to satisfy human needs and wants. Additionally, they need to understand that capacity for effective partnerships between science and governance to address sustainability challenges is affected by âhistory, experi- ence, and perceptions; quality of relationships (especially in suboptimal settings); disjunct across scales; power, interests, and legitimacy; and alternative pathways for environmental governanceâ (van Kerkhoff and Lebel, 2015). They should see that inequality in social structures affects access to services, political representa- tion, and the distribution of benefits, costs, and risks and should understand that how these inequalities mandate deliberate steps to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusivity is central to successful sustainability solutions (Raworth, 2017). Abson et al. (2017) sought to identify leverage points for influential sustain- ability efforts and noted that how knowledge is produced matters. They argue that an understanding of the following knowledge aspects is necessary for addressing sustainability challenges: â¢ How knowledge is compiled and integrated. â¢ Whose knowledge is legitimized and counts and to what extent. â¢ Who decides the criteria that are used to assess the available knowledge. â¢ Which formats of knowledge production at the scienceâsociety interface are most adequate for specific contexts and most promising to really fos- tering transformational change in practice. â¢ How knowledge produced in a specific context can be generalized or transferred to other contexts. â¢ How the kind of knowledge that is needed in any given situation is identified.
STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS 73 In sustainability programs, students need to understand and be able to judge and act critically to balance different approaches, particularly when prioritizing human and social development creates tension with environmental goals. For instance, students should understand how the built environment is shaped by the requirement of services and infrastructure to meet human needs and wants, and that these services affect the natural environment and ecosphere. Indeed, this is one example of the importance of knowing how to identify and work with the interactions between the SDGs (Nilsson et al., 2016; Pradhan et al., 2017). The global policy context for sustainable development is an integral part of sustainability higher education programs, including the United Nations 2030 Agenda; the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Community of Practice structure; and reporting norms such as the Carbon Disclo- sure Project and the Environmental, Social, and Governance factors for evaluat- ing sustainable finance. The information gathered from workshop participants and the literature sug- gest that students need to understand the implications of global differences in national incomes, endowments of natural resources, current standards of living, and trade-offs between the economic North and South necessary to achieve and sustain progress on global sustainability. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING Experiential education provides learners with the relevant experiencesâin- ternships, capstones, practicums, problem- or solutions-focused research, and other opportunities in a real-world settingâthat strengthen and revise concepts and knowledge acquired in the classroom (Eyler, 2009). The benefits include a deeper understanding of subject matter, the capacity for critical thinking, ap- plication of knowledge in complex or ambiguous situations, and recognition of the value of lifelong learning, including learning in the workplace. Experiential education encourages students to apply their learning, and it should include an element of reflection on those experiences (Aktas, 2015; Domask, 2007). Many sustainability education programs already offer experiential learning opportunities, such as the Coastal Science and Policy Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz (see Box 3-1). Workshop participants stressed the value of experiential education for their students, and students also identified âimmer- sive experiential learningâ as a valuable aspect of their education. Experiential learning in sustainability takes place in U.S. communities (of- ten near institutions) and other countries; in private, government, or nonprofit organizations; and on the university campus itself. Students may embed them- selves in a local transportation agency, a global corporation, an organic farm, a school, a social justice nonprofitâthe possibilities are nearly limitless. Several participants, including faculty, students, and alumni, said their students had even started or maintained sustainable businesses. Some innovation competitions and
74 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA BOX 3-1 Curricula That Emphasize Experiential Learning Coastal Science and Policy Program (UCSC) Experiential learning via a year-long capstone project is the heart of the graduate program in Coastal Science and Policy (CSP), begun in fall 2018 at the University of California, Santa Cruz.a The interdisciplinary curriculum prepares students to become more effective leaders in solving coastal sustainability chal- lenges, from watersheds to the open ocean. The first year of a 2-year M.S. degree involves interdisciplinary coursework and a capstone planning seminar wherein students apply theory-of-change principles (Abson et al., 2017; Meadows, 1999) and methods (e.g., design for impact at scaleb) to plan a path to a scalable solution for each studentâs chosen challenge. Students write individual capstone plans that pursue early steps in their theory-of- change path and co-design the project with a partner organization from the non- profit, private, or governmental sector, guided by faculty advisors and peer review. In the second year, each student conducts the capstone project immersed with the partner organization and advised by a partner mentor, faculty advisor, CSP program leadership, and (often) informal advisors. Students dial in from around the world into a weekly video-linked capstone seminar with their cohort and faculty instructor. This boundary-spanning system of mentoring and peer review facilitates real-time learning, ongoing reflection, and project adjustments. Students submit and present a final capstone report on deliverables to satisfy degree requirements. A new Ph.D.-designated emphasis in CSP allows Ph.D. students majoring in other fields to conduct capstone-like research immersed with a nonacademic partner for one dissertation chapter. As of February 2020, the CSP program matriculated young leaders from 12 nations, pursuing capstone projects with start-up companies, governments, small to large conservation nongovernmental organizations, and consulting firms. The first cohort has conducted capstones on opportunities such as producing bio- degradable plastic from food waste on the Google campus, building the coastal resilience capacity of Grenada by integrating coastal vulnerability assessment into the nationâs coastal zone management plan,c and strengthening community co-management of fish conservation zones in the Mekong River.d REFERENCES Abson, D. J., J. Fischer, J. Leventon, J. Newig, T. Schomerus, U. Vilsmaier, H. von Wehrden, P. Abernathy, C. D. Ives, N. W. Jager, and D. J. Lang. 2017. Leverage points for sustain- ability transformation. AmbioÂ 46(1), 30â39. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-016-0800-y. Meadows, D. 1999. Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. Hartland, VT: The Sustainability Institute. a See https://csp.ucsc.edu. b See https://mulagofoundation.org/stuff/design-for-impact-at-scale. c See https://csp.ucsc.edu/people/current-students. d See https://fishbio.com/news/mekong-basin-dams-pose-danger-experts.
STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS 75 accelerators for social enterprises encourage or specifically target higher educa- tion students with sustainability foci, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundationâs Circular Economy Programme and Pioneers, the Sustainable Ocean Allianceâs Oceans Solution Accelerator, and the Bridge Spark Fund.7 Some workshop par- ticipants highlighted the excitement generated by the maker movement that lets students apply educational concepts through the creation and sale of products. Many institutions offer experiential opportunities in the Global South for visiting and local students through study-abroad programs. For example, the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute in Thailand offers U.S. college students a âPeople, Ecology, and Developmentâ semester to focus on âunderstanding the broader challenges of sustainable development though ex- periential studies of specific landscapes and cultures in the villages, mountains, coasts and islands throughout Thailandâ (Ritchie, 2013). Africa Nazarene Uni- versity in Kenya fosters student engagement with farmers in eastern Kenya to mitigate the impact of drought. Students exchange information about the needs and available resources, knowledge, and traditions of the community before sug- gesting solutions.8 Workshop participants also described capstone experiences that are offered at the end of a course of study, as well as experiences for students to learn and apply their knowledge over a semester, or follow a co-op schedule that alternates between work and study semesters. The idea of a âspiral of learning,â in which a student may take a course, have a field experience, then return to the classroom, perhaps several times, was noted by workshop panelist Pamela Matson of Stan- ford University as a way to strengthen both classroom and real-world learning. Panelist Yuwei Shi from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey noted his program transitioned from a capstone experience toward the end of a curriculum to one that takes place at the start of the program. The switch, he said, has enriched learning and allowed students to form a collabora- tive cohort earlier. Several employers and end users at the workshops discussed how they de- signed programs or managed students participating in them and/or have hired students who had been through experiential education at their own or other or- ganizations. Employers expressed the value of exposing students to the realities of working environments before they graduate. For example, as one participant noted, âStudents need to take what theyâve learned and create something digest- ible for a chief financial officer.â 7â See Ellen MacArthur Foundation Circular Economy Programme, available at https://www.ellen macarthurfoundation.org/our-work/activities/from-linear-to-circular/circular-economy- programme;Sustainable Ocean Alliance, available at https://www.soalliance.org; and Bridge Col- laborativeâs Bridge Spark Fund, available at https://bridgecollaborativeglobal.org/what-we-do/fund, all accessed on March 11, 2020. 8â For more information about Africa Nazarene Universityâs Science and Technology Program, see https://www.anu.ac.ke/school-department/school-science-technology, accessed on March 12, 2020.
76 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA The quality of the experiential education program matters (Eyler, 2009). It should be more than checking off a box indicating that a student has had an in- ternship in organization X or completed a research project in community Y. With this in mind, the committee sought to examine successful experiential learning programs in sustainability and consider how they are engaging to the student, educationally valuable, and useful to the relevant community or organization. Community Learning Many workshop participants warned about not just conducting research or seeking to âhelpâ a community but also collaborating and co-learning with com- munity members, whether in an adjacent neighborhood or an ocean away. Glob- ally, Ritchie (2013) observed, âWorking with marginalized communities in the Global South can present significant challengesâhow to address inherent dispari- ties in power and knowledge, and how, especially in a hierarchical society like Thailand, to ensure that local communities are not exploited for education, but rather are empowered through education.â Similar challenges can easily surface in a community adjacent to a college or university. Examples of community-led design of sustainability programs are highlighted in Box 3-2. BOX 3-2 Community-Led Design of Solutions to Sustainability Challenges Workshop participants emphasized the need for students to be exposed to ef- forts that are community designed and led as an important aspect of sustainability education. Virtually every community, large and small, has some such group that could involve energetic and open-to-learn students. Two examples participants mentioned in the workshops are as follows: â¢ The Fair Food Network connects households with healthy food to improve health, ignite local economies, and open opportunities. In Michigan, the network has established a fund that provides critical investment and busi- ness assistance to local food-related businesses. University of Michigan students have been involved in all aspects of the network. â¢ The Transformative Climate Communities Program in California awards grants to develop and implement neighborhood-level sustainability pro- grams, with the investments to take place within disadvantaged commu- nities (as defined by the California Environmental Protection Agencyâs CalEnviroScreen tool). One such funded plan is called the Watts Rising Collaborative.a a For more information about the Watts Rising Collaborative, see https://www.wattsrising. org, accessed on April 27, 2020.
STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS 77 To avoid disparities in power and resources, it is important to engage with local communities sincerely and authentically in designing and teaching relevant sustainability courses, so that they are ânot exploited for education, but rather are empowered through educationâ (Ritchie, 2013). Another issue raised by participants at the workshops and of concern to the committee relates to accessing experiential learning opportunities. Internships are valuable learning and rÃ©sumÃ©-building experiences, but there are very real barriers to participation, especially for students from low-income families and those who have responsibilities for other family members: the interns can be unpaid or underpaid, require oneâs own transportation, or necessitate additional expenses to live in another location. These realities hamper students who need to earn income and reduce expenses. Several solutions were suggested, but this is a central challenge for improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in sustainability education (see also Chapter 4). One employer located in a remote area said her organization sought more centrally located projects where students could intern outside their office location. Several educators described efforts to find exter- nal funding to supplement compensation, especially for lower-income students who want experience in nonprofits and community-based organizations but have limited finances. One example could include the National Science Foundationâs Research Experiences for Undergraduates program that provides indirect funding for undergraduate students to participate in research (NSF, 2020). Service Learning While experiential education is increasingly understood as an effective pedagogy combined with classroom learning, service learning also provides rich educational opportunities in sustainability. Service learning is âa form of education in which students work with community partners to identify and ad- dress community needs in an academic setting, together with structured reflec- tions designed to achieve desired learning outcomesâ (Jacoby, 2015; Coleman et al., 2017). Coleman et al. (2017) conducted one of the few experiments about service-learning projects focused on climate change as a tool to teach sustain- ability concepts. Based on a joint effort between four college courses in different disciplines, they found that students in these classes improved their understand- ing of climate change, how it affects their respective disciplines, and personal responsibility for addressing climate change. Because sustainability is a complex and interdisciplinary field, service-learning projects that focus on the intersec- tion of climate change and a given discipline can serve as a rich opportunity for students to learn about and engage with relevant sustainability issues in their field and outside the classroom. Accordingly, the Association for the Advance- ment of Sustainability in Higher Education provides credit for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, or STARS, report for service-learning projects with a focus on sustainability.
78 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA Organizational Learning In addition to applying their learning in diverse experiential contexts that include community and service learning, it is crucial for students to have a systematic understanding of how organizations learn and change, and of the organizational contexts in which many of them will pursue their career goals. A vast literature on the subject distinguishes how organizations learn. This literature contrasts organizational learning in relation to theories of agents and choice, con- flict and bargaining, and competitive selection (Fiol and Lyles, 1985; Levitt and March, 1988; Miller, 1996). Theorists of organizations suggest that organizational learning relies on routines and is path dependent and goal oriented (March and Olsen, 1975; Nelson and Winter, 1982). Organizational learning denotes both ac- cumulation of organizational memory and changes in organizational knowledge, whatever the source of knowledge (Chadwick and Raver, 2015; Lozano, 2014; Schulz, 2017). Recent research has highlighted the role of leadership in particular in organizational learning (Berson et al., 2015). Because actions and strategies of business and civil society organizations are so critical for pathways toward sustainability, sustainability curricula should include both critical conceptual grounding for their students and opportunities for practical application of such learning in organizational settings. On the one hand, students of sustainability need a theoretically informed and conceptual un- derstanding of organizational change to comprehend and appreciate the pressures and opportunities that their organizations confront when pursuing sustainability strategies. These organizational contexts likely constrain or provoke the choices that strengthen sustainability. On the other hand, students also need familiarity with how organizations work, learn, and change through practical experience in organizational contextsâwhether through apprenticeship, internships, or other opportunities to engage decision makers and leaders of diverse organizations. At the Santa Cruz workshop, student participants discussed what they had learned about organizational change theory. At least one student had taken an undergraduate course, although she said that the education she gained in that regard was through her role in organizing for fossil fuel divestment. All of the student panelists agreed that understanding how to intervene in organizations to fundamentally change structures was essential to their sustainability efforts. Rich and diverse experiential opportunities for studentsâ organizational learn- ing will require educational institutions to collaborate more closely with business, government, and civil society organizations. Many already do, enabling produc- tive interactions for their students, from local to global levels. Common to the success of programs that exist is the leveraging of at least one of the sustainability core competencies, such as systems thinking, and involvement of at least one sustainability content area, such as data use and analysis. These opportunities provide students with valuable first-hand experiences in sustainability in the need to find the synergies and consider the trade-offs that continually occur in
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