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New Sustainability Seminar pairs students with community partners

A new class, “Sustainability for Global Citizenship,” is being offered this spring as part of Macalester’s Educating Sustainability Ambassadors (ESA) grant. The seminar pairs teams of students with local community partners to work in cooperation on a project related to sustainability. After participating in a seminar this spring, students will work with community partners during a paid summer practicum.

The organizations students will be partnering with were chosen in conjunction with the Civic Engagement Center. According to environmental studies professor Christie Manning, who manages the ESA grant, they chose to pair with organizations that already had a relationship with Macalester and were willing to take on students during the summer.

Political science Professor Michael Zis, who teaches the seminar, said the choices were then narrowed down to organizations that had a specific goal in mind that would be appropriate for undergraduate-level students.

“The goal and the aspiration that [the organizations] identified had to be one that was something that students could do in a realistic amount of time, and with the skill sets they had,” Zis said. “If there was a proposal that required students to have advanced training in some kind of software or something like that, we nixed that idea. We also wanted to find diverse groups that were working in diverse areas.”

The organizations chosen include the American Refugee Committee, Pride for People in Living (PPL), the Hmongtown Marketplace, and the Macalester-Groveland Community Council.

“The American Refugee Committee is international, global in scope, and is interested in the idea of developing a sustainable refugee camp. PPL is interested in a sustainable housing project. The Hmongtown Market is interested in a sustainable market, however defined, and Mac-Groveland is looking at how to have a more sustainable recycling system,” Zis said.

In addition to partnering with community organizations, one focus of the seminar is to expand upon students’ definitions of sustainability. According to Zis, this involves “defining and conceptualizing sustainability beyond the environmental framework that we’re accustomed to viewing and defining sustainability in.”

“[Sustainability is] really broad,” Zis continued. “You have to talk not just about the environment, but about economic and social goals as well. You’re able to see connections that weren’t there before. [We’re exploring the] connection between the sustainability of the environment and also some degree of global economic equity.”

In order to explore the many different ways that sustainability can be applied, applicants from diverse academic backgrounds were intentionally sought out for the class. According to students, the diversity of the class’s academic backgrounds has been a strength of the seminar.

“I’ve been thinking about economy and politics and things that I never conceptualize as much,” Nicole Emanuel ’16, a biology and English major taking part in the seminar, said. “I’m enjoying it, but there’s definitely people from a lot of different backgrounds.”

Zis concurred, saying: “It is cool to bring in those different perspectives and to be humble in the classroom, especially with these students. They’re phenomenal students.”

The students, who had to apply for and be accepted in order to enroll in the class, had a variety of motivations for participating in the seminar.

Anna Lee ’16, a political science major, was inspired to apply for the class after a study abroad experience in Istanbul, Turkey, last semester.

“What hit me [while abroad] was that sustainability is not a concept that people really get there,” Lee said. “For example, their tap water isn’t safe to drink so I had to buy bottled water. I recycled my water bottles, but one day I saw that the truck puts everything in, like recycle and garbage into one space, so there’s no point in recycling.”

Other elements of being abroad also made an impression on Lee.

“The fast urbanization of Istanbul really struck me, because the inequality between people who live there and who have the money versus those who just came to the city is immense. That’s like a classic example of unsustainable development,” Lee said.

The class already seems to be making an impact on the way in which students understand and discuss sustainability.

“ I have a totally different view of [sustainability] now. Anytime I used to talk about it, it was in a much more buzzword-y way,” Emanuel said. “[The class has] really opened up the way I think about sustainability and it’s definitely made me interested in seeing what other ways I could pursue this topic.”

Students will be partnered with organizations soon and will begin working on their projects in the summer.

The seminar likely will be offered again next spring.

February 27, 2015

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