Linking Science and Social Issues

Why is Sustainability and Human Health a SENCER Model?

Designed for nonscience students, a learning community entitled Earth Island: Environmental Issues and their Literary Portrayals focuses on environmental/human health issues and the "not optional" concept of sustainability. It 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. Both lecture courses in this learning community are designed to focus from biological and literary perspectives on present, real, global, environmental issues that, if untreated, threaten human survival.

The Environmental Biology course 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. The Literature and the Environment course 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.

These two lecture courses, combined with a third reflective course (Reflective Tutorial), the labs, and the experiential components, make the entire learning community an educational package of high relevance to today's students, who live in a world that for the first time in history demands a reconsideration of the human condition with respect to the environment, with the future of humankind hanging in the balance. By designing Reflective Tutorial as a highly interactive course that is discussion-intensive and writing-intensive regarding the general environmental/human health theme, by emphasizing the development of critical thinking skills and a heightened sense of concerned citizenry, by challenging students to find connections between philosophies regarding nature and daily activities with environmental consequences, and by shaping the outside-the-classroom experiential components to show the relevance of the theme to the students, this learning community truly stimulates such reconsideration, as the students begin to view themselves as citizens who must make a difference in the larger community.