The Course

Cover Art for Sustainability and Human Health


Syllabus for Sustainability and Human Health (Acrobat (PDF) 257kB Jul11 08)

Course Timeline and Assignments

Course Timeline and Assignments for Sustainability and Human Health (Text File 31kB Jul11 08)

Course Format: General Information

This learning community considers human impacts on the environment with emphasis on the major environmental issues facing the present generation, including pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, the biodiversity crisis, acid deposition and desertification of once fertile lands.
Environmental Biology takes an anthropocentric (human-centered) approach towards understanding the historically unique situation of the present generation in determining not only individual survival, but the future of humankind as a species. Ecological concepts are presented to show how nature works as a web of interconnected factors. We consider combining environmentally safe technology with an understanding of nature and of public policy, to achieve sustainability without polluting the environment or further endangering human health. Literature and the Environment focuses on essays, poetry, and works of fiction, drama, and film on the environment. The course brings individual and broad social perceptions by great literary artists to the discussion of what nature means to us all.

Course Description

This course focuses on development of college-level communication skills through reading, writing, discussions, and presentations stemming from issues raised in the learning community. Specific course objectives:

- To respond originally and lucidly to a series of reading-based, experience-based, and research-based topics

- To learn how to compose, by relating writing to perceiving, thinking, and expressing

- To use the composing process to focus and develop perspective on any topic

- To acquire the habits of supporting assertions, of building controlled paragraphs, and of revising and editing so that sentences are complex yet clear

- To learn to write for one another; to read your own writing to others; to listen seriously to what your classmates wrote; to give and receive positive criticism (Toby Fulwiler, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 5, 1986, page 104)

- To develop a sharp, open, and analytical mind (Richard Paul and Linda Elder, Critical Thinking, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, back cover, 2001)

Learning Community Management (Policies, Procedures, and Logistics)

While each of the two instructors in the learning community is responsible for his/her lecture course, they meet during the summer to go over all course materials together and coordinate the lecture topics. They also draw up a weekly outline for the entire learning community, making certain that deadlines for all three courses do not co-occur. In this fashion, the learning community is structured as a single educational entity instead of contrived from independent courses with little integration.

The Two Lecture Courses

SENCER factors that are part of this learning community and that are embedded in the Environmental Biology course include oral lecture exams (to test for conceptual understanding), and student-active laboratory exercises relevant to and demonstrative of the lecture topics, including an "ecotour" of a local wastewater treatment facility after the students have been introduced to wastewater treatment as an academic subject. During each lecture, attempts are made by the instructor to involve the students instead of allowing them to act as passive recipients of information. At the very least, students are asked questions during every lecture, to keep them focused on the subject being presented.

In Literature and the Environment, the classroom format is largely discussional and guided by the instructor. Impromptu quizzes are always a possibility, which helps in terms of student preparation prior to class.

Reflective Tutorial: Introduction

With respect to Reflective Tutorial, the experiential components, classroom discussions/activities, writing assignments, research, and web page presentations are carefully shaped by the instructors to bring relevance of the subject matter to the students and to achieve desired student learning outcomes (critical thinking, experiential learning and reflection, development of college-level communication skills, sensitivity to diversity issues, information literacy).

Reflective Tutorial Experiential Component: The Toms River Project

One set of outside-the-classroom experiences is collectively referred to as The Toms River Project, where the students focus on the groundwater pollution problem in Toms River, New Jersey, and its possible association with a childhood cancer cluster there. Through class trips, arranged by both instructors, to Toms River and Trenton, New Jersey, as well as Manhattan, the students interview community activists, corporate representatives, government scientists, and state and federal public officials associated with this environmental/human health issue. All trips require two vans, with the instructors as drivers, as well as one or two student-driven cars. During the first day trip to Toms River about a month into the semester, the students are given two back-to-back presentations in a lecture hall at a local community college, totaling three hours. These two presentations are given not by the instructors but instead by community activists who have formed community organizations as a result of the childhood cancer cluster in their midst. After a brief lunch, the students return to the lecture hall, where they remain throughout the afternoon, interviewing citizens who have agreed to stop by that afternoon. Instead of a seemingly irrelevant academic exercise, the students meet actual cancer victims, parents and grandparents of children who have died of cancer, corporate officials who present their perspectives, as well as government officials-all with distinct and usually contradictory opinions regarding the human health situation in Toms River. The next Reflective Tutorial class becomes a heated discussion as the students weigh in regarding the situation in Toms River and who the villains are (the corporations who polluted the government regulators who did not regulate? the policy makers who did not make it illegal to pollute at the time). During the second day trip to Toms River, the students travel to a Superfund site, where they listen to a two-hour presentation from officials of one of the corporations responsible for much of the groundwater pollution in the area, to gain the corporate perspective. The students then tour the Superfund site that the corporation is in the process of cleaning up. On another occasion, the students return to Toms River to attend a night meeting of the Citizens Action Committee on the Childhood Cancer Cluster. Here, they witness something like a town meeting with a focus on the childhood cancer cluster. Officials and experts present the latest information regarding the polluted groundwater and possible connections with the childhood cancer cluster. Concerned citizens also speak, often emotionally, regarding the situation. The students thus witness a drama unfolding in the community, one that could happen anywhere. These acts of witnessing definitely heighten student concern for what goes on in the community, as evidenced by the Reflective Tutorial discussions that follow. During a day trip to Trenton (capital of New Jersey), the students meet with several scientists familiar with the Toms River situation, at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Here, they learn the usefulness of science in discerning cause and effect. They also learn the limits of science in addressing large, complex, contested, and unresolved public issues. While in Trenton, the students tour the state facility that chemically analyzes the drinking water in the state, where they learn that the process is much more sophisticated than they had previously thought. The last trip of The Toms River Project is to the United States Environmental Protection Agency in Manhattan, where the students meet with the EPA officials who have federal oversight regarding the cleanup operations for the two Superfund sites in Toms River.

Near the end of the semester, the students are required to explore and develop a paper based on the multiple frames of reference of The Toms River Project. In addition to accurately summarizing the various positions taken by the parties involved, each student must present his/her own perspective, using notes garnered during these trips as well as recently developed critical thinking skills. Perspectives must be supported and persuasive.

Reflective Tutorial Experiential Component: The Environmental Public Policy Project

The major (15-page minimum) research paper required for this learning community is one dealing with environmental public policy. Each student chooses from a prepared list of research titles. In practically every case, each student is required to include his/her own recommended changes in U.S. environmental policy to promote sustainability and human health. The paper is prepared using the style recommended by the Modern Language Association (MLA), with details regarding formatting included in the syllabus. Outside of class, each student meets individually with one of the instructors (D.E.S.) three times during the semester to go over the first three drafts of the paper. During each conference, the instructor goes over the draft with the student while the student is in his/her office, instead of handing the student a graded paper, to allow the student an opportunity to understand where (s)he made fundamental composition errors and how to improve the writing to effect better communication. As part of this conference, the instructor often requests that the student read portions of the paper aloud, so that missing elements become apparent to the student, followed by guidance to enhance the draft. While most of the research effort is expected within the first couple of months of the semester-the third draft is due by week 9 of a 15-week semester-the fourth and final draft of the research paper is due the last day of class.

By the seventh week of the semester, each student has selected from his/her research thus far a particular environmental issue that (s)he feels strongly about. The student prepares a carefully worded letter stating his/her position on the issue, with supporting evidence regarding the student's recommended changes in U.S. policy. After at least two revisions, the letter is sent to both U.S. senators and the Member of the House who represent the student in Congress. Later in the semester, as part of an overnight class trip to Washington, D.C., each student meets with one of these three Congressional members or the environmental expert on the member's staff, to discuss the contents of the researched letter. The appointments, as well as the hotel reservations, are arranged ahead of time with the help of the departmental secretary of one of the instructors. The costs are borne by grant money or by the college. Two instructor-driven vans, as well as a student car or two, are used for the trip, arriving the afternoon before the meetings. The hotel is located near a Metropolitan Transit Authority subway stop, so that the students can use the subway for local transportation. Time allowing, the students meet with lobbying nongovernment organizations with contrasting environmental perspectives (e.g., Public Citizen and the American Interprise Institute), to understand the significance of special interest groups in shaping federal legislation. All congressional appointments are made for the same day between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. On that day, the students travel by Metro to Union Station, which is within walking distance of the appropriate office buildings, then proceed in small groups to their indicated buildings and individual appointments. Union Station serves as a common meeting place between meetings, as does the Senate cafeteria in the basement of one of the Senate office buildings. After the last appointment, all students rendezvous at the hotel for the return trip to campus. As with the other experiential components of this learning community, the trip to Washington, D.C. becomes a discussional focal point at the next Reflective Tutorial session.

Near the end of the semester, two Reflective Tutorial sessions (three hours total) are spent in one of the computer labs, where the students are instructed regarding webpage design, taught by an instructor with such expertise in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Applications. (The instructor is given an honorarium through college funds for this service.) By the end of the workshop, each student has created his/her own web page, which includes the title and abstract of the major research paper, as well as student contact information for those wishing more information. During the three-hour final exam period for Reflective Tutorial, the students give presentations of their research findings. The campus and surrounding community, including those who had agreed to be interviewed during the semester, are invited. Each student displays his/her web page on a screen, summarizes the research paper, and addresses questions from the audience. The students feel a need to prepare, as they are never sure who will be in the audience and which questions will be asked. This experience gives the students a sense of empowerment-many for the first time-as they are the "experts" and are asked to provide their well-considered perspectives.

Reflective Tutorial Experiential Component: Working a Shift at a Food Coop

During the second week of the semester, the students are taken by instructor-driven van in two groups to the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn. There they are introduced to a successful, consumer-run, "green" business that shows by real example how individuals can have more control over, in this case, food choices. During the semester, each student is required to work at least one three-hour shift at the food coop, where (s)he is exposed to concerned consumers and environmentalists. Each student is responsible for his/her own transportation to the coop, and they are asked to go in pairs if possible. This activity becomes a discussional focus during Reflective Tutorial.

Reflective Tutorial Experiential Component: Camping Trip

From a Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon during the semester, the students are taken to Worthington State Forest for an overnight camping trip, for bonding purposes and also to show the students the natural beauty that is at stake as environmental legislation is being shaped, i.e., the importance of being actively involved in the political process. One instructor driven van is used, and the remaining students carpool for the trip. Each student is asked to contribute towards food and campsite reservations, approximately $10 per student. Camping equipment is student-owned or borrowed for the occasion. The camping trip includes an ecotour or guided hike.

Experiential Component

As part of Reflective Tutorial, you are expected to include an experiential component that takes place outside the traditional classroom setting. The experience should relate to the general theme of the learning community (aspects of environmental issues). The goal is to provide a mechanism for each of you to understand more clearly the relevance of environmental issues through direct involvement that allows for reflection. Such reflection can be communicated via informal writing and can become part of the general discussion in this course. Part of the experiential component of this learning community is project oriented and is called The Toms River Project, because it deals with various aspects of water pollution in Dover Township, New Jersey, where Toms River is located. This water pollution may be linked to a childhood cancer cluster found there. You are required to attend all group trips associated with The Toms River Project--expected to include three Fridays. You will also attend an evening meeting, in Toms River, of the Citizens Action Committee on Childhood Cancer Cluster (CACCCC), yet to be scheduled. You will receive detailed information regarding The Toms River Project in Reflective Tutorial.

The experiential component will also require a group field trip to Washington, D.C., where you will meet a member of Congress who represents you or the environmental expert on that politician's staff. At that meeting, tentatively set for Thursday, October 30, 2003, the two of you will discuss an environmental issue stemming from the major research paper an issue that you will have researched prior to your trip. You will bring with you a carefully worded letter (see Letter to Member of Congress below) stating your position on the issue, with supporting evidence. The letter will be addressed to your selected Congressional member and will be the focus of your meeting with him/her. Dr. Stearns will describe this experiential component in class.

A community service activity required of all LC-K students will involve working at the incredible Park Slope Food Coop for approximately 1.5 hours. Dr. Worthy will describe this experiential component in class. In addition to these required trips, several optional activities are available for interested students. The instructors will describe them throughout the semester.

Attendance and individual involvement in the required activities will be evaluated as part of the active participation grade. For students who, at the end of the semester, are borderline between grades, their having participated in the optional activities will be considered. Failure to meet the minimal requirements of the experiential component will automatically result in Incomplete if you are passing at the end of the semester; otherwise it will result in an F for the course.

Writing Intensive Tutor and the Writing Center: To assist you in mastering college-level writing skills, Ms. Sarah DiBiase is your writing intensive tutor (WIT). Sarah took this learning community as a freshman and was a leader during our camping trip last fall. She is well prepared to help you with all your assigned papers. See your Writing Center manual for Sarah's contact information and scheduled hours. A WIT is an undergraduate trained to go over with you any ideas you have and to read your papers for coherence before you hand them in. You can call 420-4234 for an appointment with your WIT in the Writing Center, part of the Horrmann Study Center. To get there, inside the library go through the turnstile and straight past the reference desk to the stairwell; go downstairs and follow the signs. It is highly recommended that you get your WIT's valuable input before you turn in any of your assigned papers, including required drafts of your research paper. Be aware that it is not Sarah's job to write papers for you or to correct all your grammatical errors. However, she can certainly help you to achieve college-level writing skills. Use your grammar handbook and dictionary in this regard as well. If you are unable to meet with Sarah, you can drop by the Writing Center during open hours to meet with any WIT on duty. You can also e-mail your papers to have a WIT look at them, at Your use of the Writing Center and any of the WITs will be monitored and taken into consideration as part of your active participation grade in this course. Director of the Wagner College Writing Center is Dr. Kim Worthy (Phone: 390-3298; e-mail: You are expected to avail yourself of these services on a regular basis. The Writing Center has a web page with valuable writing resources. Check it out, especially the Online Writing Lab link. The web address is .

Research Coordinator and the Horrmann Study Center: To assist you in the research process, your RFT undergraduate research intensive tutor (RIT) is Ms. Jessica Friswell. Jessica took this learning community last fall. She is also being trained in library research. She can tell you how to succeed. She is available by appointment through the Horrmann Library Reference Desk (Phone: 390-3402). For general research assistance in information retrieval, please see Mr. Francis Polizzi (Phone: 390-3377; e-mail:, Research Coordinator, located on the first floor of the Horrmann Library. Procedure for the short paper and all research paper drafts:

(a) Prepare your document using a computer and a word-processing program like Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, formatting as follows:

Margins: 1 inch left, right, top, bottom
Font face ' Times New Roman
Font size ' 12 pt
Double spacing
Title page: Title of paper, your name, RFT (W) LC-K1 or K2, name of your instructor (K1: Dr. Stearns; K2: Dr. Worthy), the date the paper is turned in, label designating short paper or research paper (including which draft)
Pagination with page 1 beginning on the first page beyond Abstract

(b) Edit the document carefully before you turn it in. See, in this packet, Grading Standards for English 110 and Beyond, Criteria for the Three Types of Papers, MLA Documentation Workshop, and Papers Checklist. (See Table of Contents for page numbers.) Consult A Writer's Reference for appropriate editorial corrections. Consult your writing intensive tutor (WIT) in the Writing Center, as well as your personal Writing Center manual, for more details. Consult The American Heritage Dictionary for spelling and use of appropriate words.

The Short Paper: One short paper will be assigned during the semester. Instructions are provided below. The paper must be prepared using the MLA style recommended by the Modern Language Association Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Consult A Writer's Reference and your WIT for help in structuring the paper. Correct formatting, spelling and grammatical construction are expected. Evaluation of the short paper will be based on writing quality and degree of effort. A late paper will be docked five points for each day late, calculated as the number of days after the deadline that the paper is turned in and found suitable for evaluation. Note: Your paper will be returned to you unread and docked points if it does not meet the formatting requirements cited above.

Topic of Short Paper (four full pages, minimum): Multilogical Problems A Case Study

MULTILOGICAL PROBLEMS. Multidimensional problems that can be analyzed and approached from more than one (often from conflicting) points of view or frames of reference. For example, many ecological problems have a variety of dimensions to theméíhistorical, social, economic, biological, chemical, moral, political. A person who is comfortable thinking through multilogical problems is comfortable thinking within multiple perspectives, ...practicing intellectual empathy, and thinking across disciplines and domains (Richard Paul and Linda Elder, Critical Thinking 405.)

Explore and develop a paper based on the multiple frames of reference of The Toms River Project, an environmental/human health/corporate issue. Consider the points of view of the victims and their families, corporations, scientists, and government officials. You must accurately summarize the various positions taken by the parties involved. Towards the end of the paper, persuasively present your own perspective, arguing your position. Back up your argument using your notes from presentations and responses to questions during the trips associated with The Toms River Project, as well as the discussions in Reflective Tutorial. This paper will be described further in class. Include original title, introduction, several main paragraphs with concise quotations where appropriate, and conclusion. All borrowed language must be in quotation marks and cited according to MLA guidelines. All borrowed ideas, paraphrased, must also be cited.

Letter to Members of Congress: Decide your personal view regarding an environmental issue related to your research paper, and provide a written summary of that view no later than October 3rd (the due date for the 2nd draft of your research paper). Carefully prepare a thoughtful letter describing your position, with evidence supporting your viewpoint. Include some of your recommendations for change in U.S. environmental law and policy that stem from your research paper. Make three copies of the letter, one for each of your senators and your Congressional representative. You must see a WIT in the Writing Center before the due date, Thursday, October 16th. The WIT must go over the letter with you and must sign this draft of the letter. A revised, clean copy of the original letter and the signed first draft are both due in RFT class Thursday, October 16th. While this letter will not be graded as a short paper, it will be assessed for overall effort, as well as evidence of critical analysis and persuasive argument; that evaluation will constitute part of the active participation grade.

Journal Entries: On occasion, you will be assigned specific study topics designed to enhance your understanding of environmental issues and critical thinking. The general goal of this journal writing is to encourage an introspective awareness. Please note that this is not a diary: do not lapse into personal matters unless they directly relate to the study topic. While each journal entry will not be graded, there will be a subjective assessment of overall effort and general improvement with time, and that evaluation will constitute part of the active participation grade.