The Sustainability Scholars Program: Early Successes from the Pilot Year

Friday 3:00pm-4:00pm TSU - Humphries: 118
Poster Session Part of Friday


Hannah Scherer, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Kayla Harris, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Peter Ziegler, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Curtis Friedel, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Donna Westfall-Rudd, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Tiffany Drape, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
The Sustainability Scholars Program is a structured undergraduate academic experience focused on issues of sustainability in the food, agricultural, natural resources and/or human sciences (FANH). Experiential learning opportunities, such as study abroad, internships, undergraduate research, and service learning, are utilized as a way to develop student workplace skills, FANH career awareness, and leadership abilities. The goal of this project is to create an interdisciplinary program as a means to build institutional capacity to: recruit and retain underserved populations into FAHN programs; support experiential learning opportunities for students interested in FAHN fields of study; and develop training for faculty to improve advising and mentoring skills. The program targets first-generation and underrepresented minority undergraduate students and pairs them with faculty who serve as their mentors. The pilot year of the project engaged eight faculty mentors from multiple disciplines across campus and nine student participants who completed sustainability-related projects. We established a Sustainability Scholars Working Group, a new Sustainability Scholars Capstone Seminar course, and a revised Exploring Citizen Leadership course. To provide guidance for development of a new Sustainability Scholars Faculty Mentor Community of Practice, we conducted open-ended interviews with a purposeful sample of faculty who were experienced in working with underrepresented minority (URM) students in laboratory settings. Our analysis revealed that few study participants take time to learn about the cultures of students who might have backgrounds different from theirs or encourage URM students to have multiple mentors. Through participating in the program, students developed new critical thinking skills, the ability to apply new understandings about sustainability to their academic disciplines, and leadership capacity in the areas of sustainability and stewardship. This project was supported by the Higher Education Challenge (HEC) Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2017-70003-26379.

Presentation Media

Poster (Acrobat (PDF) 1.5MB Jul18 19)