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New initiative aims to spark sustainability conversations on campus

Editors’ note: Macalester received a Campus Sustainability Grant last spring. For more coverage, specifically on the Sustainability for Global Citizenship Seminar, see last week’s issue of The Mac Weekly.

The Educating Sustainability Ambassadors (ESA) program, created this fall and funded by a three-year grant Macalester received last spring, is rolling out several initiatives during the 2014-2015 school year that focus on bringing sustainability to the forefront of conversations on campus.

As sustainability is already something present in the minds of many on campus, the ESA programs aim to connect and work with those already thinking about sustainability on campus, as well as reach those unfamiliar with the concept. The initiative emphasizes the multidimensionality of sustainability, defining it in economic and social, as well as environmental, terms.

“When you say sustainability, the first thing that comes to people’s minds is the environment,” grant Associate Director and environmental studies professor Christie Manning said. “True sustainability is not only looking at ‘Is this environmentally healthy?’ but also [asking] if it is economically and socially healthy as well. We live in multiple systems, and issues [of the economy, environment and society] are connected. The sustainability framework keeps us mindful of that.”

One of the features of the ESA program is the Sustainability for Global Citizenship Seminar course. The inaugural seminar will be offered this spring, and will allow 10 students to partner with organizations in the Twin Cities to solve problems on sustainability. Like the seminar course, which is based on the Chuck Green Fellowship, many of the ESA initiatives are modeled after already-existing programs at Macalester. For instance, the program will sponsor a student entrepreneurship initiative much like the Live It! Fund.

“The grant has many different programs, and many are modeled after programs that already exist on the Macalester campus but that are now changing the focus to sustainability,” Manning said. “The student entrepreneurship projects essentially expand the number of Live It! Fund projects, specifically those focused on issues of sustainability.”

In fact, while the committee finalizes the plans for the more significant summer grants, according to grant director Dan Trudeau, student entrepreneurs who submit sustainability-related project proposals to the Live It! Fund and pass the IGC Student Council will be able to be financed for this coming J-Term. There will also be a separate solicitation for sustainability-related projects for the summer later this spring.

While the entrepreneurship program and the seminar course are both student-focused initiatives, the grant also reaches faculty and staff. One way that occurs is through funding student-faculty research over the summer. This past summer, six teams conducted research on a wide variety of topics regarding sustainability. The grant offers further support for those faculty who wish to incorporate sustainability into their curriculum but previously couldn’t find the resources to do so.

“On the one hand, [the inclusion of sustainability] invites people who may not be familiar with sustainability to learn about it through the particular topic of the course, but it also invites people who are familiar with sustainability in other contexts to relate that to the course,” Trudeau said. “These courses can begin to be meeting points for people who are new to sustainability and people who are familiar with it to have conversations.”

So far, sustainability curriculum is being developed for six courses in 2015. The hope of those heading up the ESA program is to continue to reach faculty in a wide variety of departments.

“The wording of the grant proposal on the overarching goal is to ‘infuse sustainability throughout the curriculum’ so that it would be difficult for a student to go through four years at Macalester without having encountered sustainability in multiple ways and in substantive ways,” Manning said. Sustainability, she stressed, is relevant to discussions occurring across academic disciplines, and the ESA program hopes to make that eminently clear.

“On the one hand, the intent is to bring more people into the same conversation on sustainability. For instance, for faculty who might be interested in sustainability but don’t know where to start, we have a workshop about giving people some tools that they can use in their courses,” Trudeau said. “But it is also deepening [the conversation] as well. Which means creating durable, provocative spaces of encounter with people of different perspectives to recognize that they are involved in something similar.”

The seminar program and the new course offerings represent instances of these spaces of encounter, giving those familiar with sustainability and those new to it space for conversation. However, one of the most explicit ways the initiative hopes to bring diverse groups of people together around sustainability is through events called Sustainability Dialogues. Four dialogues will be held annually for the duration of the grant. The first dialogue was held on September 2 and included all students and faculty who participated in sustainability research projects this summer, as well as faculty who are developing sustainability curriculum for this coming year.

“We invited all those people to talk about what they were doing to try to create a sense of awareness of where sustainability activity was already taking place and to think about where to go from here,” Trudeau said.

Yet the most wide-reaching space of encounter and conversation for the ESA initiative will be the 2016 International Roundtable, focused on sustainability.

Between the International Roundtable, the ongoing Sustainability Dialogues, support for curriculum development, and all the other features of the ESA initiative, conversation on sustainability will continue to grow on campus.

“It’s an important characteristic of Macalester that there’s faculty governance, and there’s also a lot of things that happen on campus that are grassroots and student-driven,” Manning said. “The programs of the grant are really trying to support those people and places where sustainability is of interest and provide resources so that they can come together and create something that will support it growing even further. There’s sustainability dialogues, but there’s also funding for faculty development there’s also a larger seminar for faculty and staff. There are lots of places to bring people together to explore ideas.”

October 17, 2014

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