Building Interdisciplinary Sustainability Programs

Friday 2:00pm REC Center Medium Ice Overlook Room
Oral Presentation Part of Sustainability and the Environment


Cailin Huyck Orr, Carleton College
John McDaris, Carleton College
Dave Gosselin, University of Nebraska at Lincoln
Understanding issues related to environmental problem-solving and sustainability requires background in natural systems and social systems as well as integrating information from diverse sources. Many students are motivated by the sustainability challenges we face, as a society, and are looking for opportunities to take them on. This is a major growth opportunity for sustainability programs, as students who historically may not have considered a natural science field, now enter environmental science programs where they are engaged in problems they find meaningful. Students trained with interdisciplinary backgrounds take their skills and knowledge to interesting places in the workforce, and they frequently come back later to build academically on those experiences.

Sustainability can enter the undergraduate curriculum in a number of ways. Interdisciplinary concepts and teaching methods can be infused into existing courses to emphasize the interaction between disciplinary content and sustainability. This approach can provide new skill sets that are not the focus of traditional degree programs including both specific skills and process oriented skills. This will translate well into a modern work environment where employers have a solution-oriented focus and want people who can use their existing skills toward novel applications and adapt to a changing future. An alternative to the infusion strategy, entire programs can be created or modified to emphasize sustainability. Programs engaging with sustainability are inherently interdisciplinary and thus challenge the administrative structure of many institutions. Solutions need to be aligned with institutional structure and goals. This talk with focus on lessons learned through the InTeGrate STEP center workshop program on benefits of implementing interdisciplinary sustainability programs and overcoming challenges to doing so. We will discuss examples of different approaches across institution types, and strategies developed by the NAGT sponsored "Building Stronger Departments" program.