Encompassing far more than the natural environment, sustainability relates to every aspect of life. From politics to the economy, population growth tofamily finances, it’s worth asking, “How can we live more sustainably?”
For three days in April 2012, Principia College explored that question with one of this year’s Annenberg scholars, Dr. Geoffrey Chase, dean of Undergraduate Studies and the director of the Center for Regional Sustainability at San Diego State University. Chase also serves as Board Chair for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and he co-edited Sustainability on Campus: Stories and Strategies for Change.
In his keynote talk, “Sustainability in Higher Education: Where’s It Going?,” Chase identified four areas of impact for institutions of higher learning: physical operations, institutional research, curriculum delivery, and community engagement. Of these, he contends that curricular shifts provide institutions such as Principia the greatest impact by preparing students to affect policies and practices around the world.
But what would it mean to have a curriculum that is more sensitive to the world’s need for increased sustainability? Principia has already started to increase class offerings related to its new sustainability minor, and there is exploratory talk of a sustainability master’s program. To be sure, such moves would significantly impact a self-selected set of students. But as Chase points out, a more holistic approach to the curriculum that looks at all subjects through the lens of sustainability would engage many more students in the discussion. Chase’s proposal would not substantially change the existing curriculum, however. Instead, he recommends a shift in the way professors ask questions about their content. Rather than replacing topics, he suggests approaching them from new angles.
After his Thursday evening talk, Chase spent time on Friday visiting classes and meeting individual students, faculty, and staff. Then on Saturday, he led a faculty workshop on approaches and best practices for integrating the concepts underlying sustainability into any discipline. The ideas Dr. Chase brought to campus certainly invigorated thought and stimulated discussion—key components in the effort to live sustainably.