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Strengthening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels (2020)

Chapter: 6 Final Thoughts and Summary of Recommendations by Stakeholder

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Suggested Citation:"6 Final Thoughts and Summary of Recommendations by Stakeholder." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Strengthening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25821.
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Page 121
Suggested Citation:"6 Final Thoughts and Summary of Recommendations by Stakeholder." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Strengthening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25821.
×
Page 122
Suggested Citation:"6 Final Thoughts and Summary of Recommendations by Stakeholder." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Strengthening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25821.
×
Page 123
Suggested Citation:"6 Final Thoughts and Summary of Recommendations by Stakeholder." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Strengthening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25821.
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Page 124

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6 Final Thoughts and Summary of Recommendations by Stakeholder Sustainability education for undergraduate and graduate students is still in its early stage, but the tremendous growth and evolution of curricula and programs provides an opportunity to address the urgent environmental, economic, and so- cietal challenges of communities worldwide. The highly interdisciplinary nature of the field provides a variety of access points for students from all backgrounds and disciplines to learn sustainability knowledge and principles. In addition, the continued growth of sustainability programs will shape the experiences of future undergraduate and graduate students and may one day become a staple of higher education studies. The higher education community should engage with the rec- ommendations put forth in this report so that there is a cohesive guide to students and faculty in selecting their programs, a reference for employers to understand the qualifications for sustainability graduates, and a foundation for potential ac- creditation in the future. Education is core to achieving sustainability goals. From K–12 through con- tinuing education and training, education provides a way to equip people with the knowledge and skills to address sustainability challenges, whether framed as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or otherwise. By focusing on undergraduate and graduate education, the committee has shown how higher education institutions play a vital role in research, collaborative action, and work- force development. Our recommendations suggest ways forward in addressing the competencies, capacities, and content areas that students should master; the ways that academic institutions can offer a rich learning experience to a diverse and inclusive student body; and how the sustainability workforce can be strength- ened to benefit the entire nation and the world now and into the future. 121

122 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA To clarify the obligations of various stakeholders to strengthen sustainability programs in higher education, the following section reorders the committee’s recommendations by stakeholder. While recommendations are assigned to a stakeholder, their implementation will often require collaborative efforts by sev- eral or all stakeholders. COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS BY STAKEHOLDER Federal agencies should • Increase their support for sustainability education programs, and provi- sions should be included for minority-serving institutions to apply for and receive grants to establish or revise sustainability education programs. (Recommendation 4.3) • Support research on (i) the effectiveness of sustainability curricula for achieving program-level goals and contributing positively to communities of practice, along with impacts on activities within higher education insti- tutions overall; (ii) the marketplace for sustainability jobs and pathways for students to secure those opportunities; (iii) how core competencies and content areas in sustainability programs may be converging, diverging, or otherwise evolving; and (iv) how these programs will prepare students for a post-2030 agenda for sustainable development. (Recommendation 4.4) Senior leaders of higher education institutions, from presidents to deans, should • Embrace sustainability education as a vital field that requires specifi- cally tailored educational experiences and the development of core sustainability-focused competencies and capacities delivered through courses, majors, minors, certifications, research, and graduate degrees in sustainability. (Recommendation 3.1) • Encourage the development of, implementation of, and participation in interdisciplinary sustainability programs that bridge disciplinary silos by fostering effective strategies such as team teaching, curriculum plan- ning, interdisciplinary advising and preparation of graduate students, and educator trainings across departments about competencies and con- tent areas of sustainability. Sustainability programs can be launched and evolve under a variety of institutional arrangements, but a commitment to and value of inclusivity and interdisciplinarity is of fundamental im- portance, particularly from top leaders of higher education institutions. (Recommendation 4.1)

FINAL THOUGHTS AND SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS BY STAKEHOLDER 123 Directors of sustainability programs, supported by their deans and directors, in higher education should • Encompass key and emerging sustainability content areas to prepare stu- dents to address complex sustainability challenges in a real-world setting while incorporating problem-based and solution-oriented approaches to sustainability. (Recommendation 3.2) • Develop curricula and programs covering the highly interdependent, varied, and complex contexts of sustainability (including organizational contexts), to develop their ability to discern and address historical and contemporary trajectories and consequences of sustainability processes, and to apply their learning in experiential learning settings (community, organizational, service) so that learners can be more effective implement- ers of effective transitions toward sustainability. (Recommendation 3.3) • Prioritize attracting students with varied backgrounds and lived experi- ences, supporting them for success in a variety of sustainability careers. This also requires attracting and retaining faculty from diverse back- grounds in sustainability education programs, with additional attention to equity, inclusion, and local and Indigenous knowledge in the content of the curriculum and the institutional setting. (Recommendation 4.2) • Provide training and mentoring support to enhance capacities of their students to translate knowledge to effective action, thereby improving students’ ability to design, implement, and lead proactive change toward a sustainable world. (Recommendation 5.1) Faculty in sustainability should • Collaborate with sustainability professionals to address global sustain- ability challenges and opportunities. Professional societies focusing on sustainability education should pursue collaborative opportunities to pro- vide forums for convening sustainability students, researchers, and profes- sionals; build and expand partnerships with the public and private sectors; offer formalized training and mentorship; develop shared principles and values; establish a model for assessing sustainability programs; and es- tablish and lead a cross-sectoral effort to track and analyze employment in sustainability-focused jobs. (Recommendation 5.2) • Incorporate key and emerging sustainability content areas to prepare stu- dents to address complex sustainability challenges in a real-world setting while incorporating problem-based and solution-oriented approaches to sustainability. (Recommendation 3.2) • Train students to understand the highly interdependent, varied and com- plex contexts of sustainability (including organizational contexts), to de-

124 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA velop their ability to discern and address the historical and contemporary trajectories and consequences of sustainability processes, and to apply their learning in experiential learning settings (community, organizational, service) so that learners can be more effective implementers of effective transitions toward sustainability. (Recommendation 3.3) • Conduct research on (i) the effectiveness of sustainability curricula for achieving program-level goals and contributing positively to communities of practice, along with impacts on activities within higher education insti- tutions overall; (ii) the marketplace for sustainability jobs and pathways for students to secure those opportunities; (iii) how core competencies and content areas in sustainability programs may be converging, diverging, or otherwise evolving; and (iv) how these programs will prepare students for a post-2030 agenda for sustainable development. (Recommendation 4.4) Sustainability professionals in the private sector and nongovernmental organizations should • Collaborate with faculty leaders and other sustainability professionals to address global sustainability challenges and opportunities. Professional societies focusing on sustainability education should pursue collaborative opportunities to provide forums for convening sustainability students, researchers, and professionals; build and expand partnerships with the public and private sectors; offer formalized training and mentorship; develop shared principles and values; establish a model for assessing sustainability programs; and establish and lead a cross-sectoral effort to track and analyze employment in sustainability-focused jobs. (Recom- mendation 5.2)

Next: Appendix A: Definitions of Key Terms and Phrases Used in the Report »
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Over the past decade there has been a growing interest in sustainability education in colleges and universities across the United States, with a marked increase in the number of undergraduate and graduate degree programs, research institutes, and centers focused on sustainability. Evidence-based core competencies for interdisciplinary sustainability programs can provide suitable guidance for curricular and program development, research, policy, communication, and pedagogical approaches at academic institutions. They can also serve as a guide for students to select academic programs and potential career options, a reference for employers to understand qualifications of graduates, and the foundation for a potential specialized accreditation for interdisciplinary sustainability programs. The growing demand for well-qualified sustainability professionals within the public, private, and nonprofit sectors also points to the value of developing core competencies.

Strengthening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels provides expert insights for strengthening the emerging discipline of sustainability in higher education in the United States. This report describes the local, national, and global landscape related to sustainability education; examines the history and current status of sustainability education programs in the United States and globally; discusses employment prospects for sustainability graduates in terms of the opportunities and the skills that employers seek; and addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion in sustainability-related education and employment.

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