Integrate > Undergraduate Teaching for a Sustainable Future > Inspire Your Students through Civic Engagement

Inspire Your Students to Make a Difference through Civic Engagement in Societal Issues

"Think global, act local." Stimulate students' interest in grand challenges involving Earth and society by usinging real world problems and getting students involved in the community. These approaches appeal to the affective domain, and as such, transform material students learn in their science classrooms from mere facts or abstract concepts to being more realistic, accessible, and applicable to students' lives and society as a whole. Thus, making these connections can inspire and empower students to take action in their community or in the workforce.

Explore ways to integrate local topics and real world problems

Students are energized and mobilized by real-world issues, and expand their interests by becoming involved in the local community [e.g. Brozo, 2005] . There are many strategies to help your students move beyond talking, including community partnerships, place-based approaches, and taking part in research projects. These strategies are pedagogically strong, student-centered approaches, which support deep learning and application. Sensory mapping, ethnography, and Service Learning projects are just a few examples of strategies for moving students to action in the community.

Incorporating topics that students can relate to, no matter what their major is, such as teaching about energy (where it comes from, self-assessment of usage, efforts to reduce use), water (where drinking water comes from, usage, water quality and quantity issues), and food (where does it come from, the energy involved in transport, getting students to think about sustainable practices) can further help students make the connections between what they learn in the classroom with their personal life. For example, the Lifestyle Project is a great way to build students' self-awareness with regard to consumption and sustainability and to move students to action at the personal level.

Connect students at a personal level by incorporating Environmental Justice into your course. Environmental (In)Justice incorporates personal and community impacts with the scientific examination of the cause and effects of environmental contamination, climate, energy, and more. Respectful engagement with effected communities allows students to grapple with a dynamic and complex system that involves power inequities, historical context and environmental hazards and resources. Engaging your students with Environmental Justice directly in the local community or developing empathy in the classroom (e.g. through contrasting narratives) can prepare students to face and solve grand societal challenges.

Pave the way to prepare students for the workforce with course-level hands-on experience

Encouraging students to take advantage of internships and other pre-professional opportunities is a great way to give students a flavor of the real world and how they can apply knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom to the workplace. Engaging in the workforce gives students a better context for what they are learning in the classroom and illuminates the opportunities that exist. Three ways to incorporate workforce preparation in the classroom are to provide relevance, give credit, and illuminate opportunities to build networks.

Provide relevance
Give students relevance for the material they're learning and how it can help them get a career by including jobs data in your course. Gain insight about what the workforce for a sustainable future will look like, including the job outlook and competencies and skills employers are looking for in hiring new employees to engage them as you introduce new topics and to better prepare them for the workforce.

Give credit: Internships and pre-professional opportunities
Turn internships and other pre-professional opportunities into upper-level course credits as an independent study opportunity. Encouraging students to seek out these experiences is a powerful approach to helping them make connections between their course work and the real world, utilize skills they learned in courses, and prepare them for the workforce through actual experience. The experience may even pave the way for them to attain employment either at the institution they worked with or with the network they build with the experience.

Illuminate opportunities and build connections
Explore strategies for building connections with potential employers and partnering with industry to illuminate the careers that are out there and to build a network you can use to set students up with internships, pre-professional or professional opportunities. A simple way to start is to invite guest speakers to your class who can talk about their experiences and describe their career.

Pedagogical Approaches

Service learning, using real world examples, and using the local environment are some of the pedagogies that lend themselves to strengthening the connection between the knowledge and skills students learn in the classroom to the outside world, including the community and workforce. The pages linked below describe how each method can be implemented at a variety of scales, environments and disciplines, tips on how to incorporate it into your course, and links to related materials that describe the method in more depth. The example activities and courses provided on these pages can be used wholesale or be modified to fit your classroom.

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