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InTeGrate's Model Programs that bring an Earth-focus to the Undergraduate Classroom
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This program description is part of a collection of institutional models which explore ways of bringing a geoscience-informed approach to sustainability to a diverse range of disciplines, institutions, and networks. These model programs also provide the documentation and resources necessary to help other groups implement similar programs.
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Mercer University - Providing Cultural and Regional Relevance to Issues of Global Sustainability

Dr. Colleen P. Stapleton, Mercer University
Dr. Jeffrey S. Hall, Mercer University
Dr. Sabrina Walthall, Mercer University
Dr. Timothy Craker, Mercer University
Dr. Jane M. Metty, Mercer University (Co-leader 2014-2015)

Summary

At Mercer University, faculty in Penfield College (liberal arts and professional studies) and Tift College (education) used InTeGrate materials across the general education curriculum and education courses to engage students with the human stories that illustrate adaptation to and mitigation of climate change and other issues in sustainability. Serving mainly non-traditional, working adult students who are invested in their communities, with a population of greater than 50% race/ethnic minorities and greater than 70% women, we incoporated examples of regional environmental sites into InTeGrate assignments in order to link their lives more directly to sustainability issues. This project supports Mercer University's continuing efforts to aid K-12 teachers who want to develop STEM-related literacy in their students.

Program Goals:

  1. Increase number of faculty who include Integrate materials and pedagogies in courses
  2. Increase the number and diversity of learners who study/participate in Integrate materials
  3. Include virtual field trips from local and regional sites (Georgia and southeastern USA) in Integrate materials to increase student interest in issues of sustainability
  4. Increase the number of K-8 teachers in Georgia who incorporate Earth literacy in their classrooms

Program Motivation

Mercer University serves non-traditional adult students enrolled in programs including education, informatics, liberal studies, public safety, human services, and business. These students are invested in their communities through their family, work, and community service. They are place-based students, most of whom will remain in the area upon graduation. These students bring place-based perspectives to learning. As they study sites and sustainability issues in Georgia and the southeastern USA that are familiar to them, or that they can discuss with their family, communities, and co-workers, these students are more engaged in and committed to learning how geoscience can address societal issues. To increase the number of students who are interested in learning about sustainability, project faculty developed digital field trips to locations in Georgia that link Mercer University students to regional sustainability issues.

Our motivation is also to increase the number of teachers in Georgia who include geoscience and issues of sustainabiltiy in their own classrooms. In Georgia, geoscience content is officially part of the sixth grade curriculum but integrated study across disciplines is encouraged in all grades. By linking regional examples of sustainbility issues in Georgia to issues in history, culture, economics and other disciplines, we hope to encourage Georgia teachers to include materials from InTeGrate modules and the digital field trips in their classrooms.

To increase the Earth literacy of our students and their ability to include geosciences in addressing societal issues, and to emphasize the nultidisciplinary and complex nature of sustainability, we used InTeGrate materials in general education science courses, general education capstone course, writing/history course, and education courses.

Sustaining Change

To date, four existing courses in the department were revised to include InTeGrate modules and units, and one new topics course was added to the curriculum to allow faculty to offer interdisciplinary courses in sustainability. In its strategic plan, the Mathematics, Science, and Informatics department plans to: (1) explore the possibility of offering a new degree program in sustainability; and (2) review the science curriculum, in collaboration with the education college, with a goal to include integrated science courses that address issues of interest to K-8 teachers, including sustainability and systems thinking.

Instigated by common interest in sustainability and this InTeGrate project, science, mathematics, and education faculty have established an annual STEAM Day professional development workshop for in-service and pre-service teachers. Mercer University's STEAM Collective Research Collaborative, led by the education collge, has responsibility for organizing and supporting the event. Future STEAM Days will additionally include workshop activities for other students who want to learn about steps they can take to create a more sustainable environment through actions in their personal and professional lives.

Virtual field trips are being used regularly in two courses and new course sections have already been scheduled in order to develop and include additional virtual trips. Faculty expertise in developing the field trips exists in the two colleges and, now, students have opportunities to be involved in developing field trips through a writing course.

Faculty in science, technology, mathematics, and education are collaborating on a proposal for a STEM center that will include outreach activities and physical structures, such as teaching gardens, that we will use to increase motivation in University and community stakeholders to create a more environmentally sustainable society.



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This program description is part of a growing collection of models of ways to bring learning about the Earth to a diverse range of disciplines, institutions, and networks, as well as provide the documentation and resources necessary to help other groups implement similar programs..
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