Improving Programs

Part of the InTeGrate Shippensburg University Program Model

Program Motivation

SU is currently at a watershed moment in terms of its sustainability initiatives. At the institutional level, SU was one of the first campuses in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to complete a carbon footprint assessment (Sightlines 2010). Guided by this assessment, SU's major infrastructure improvements (e.g. replacement of residence halls, improvements in campus smart technologies, and replacement of a failing coal-fired heating system) have reduced operating expenses by millions of dollars and were estimated to reduce our carbon footprint by an estimated 31% and our electric demand by at least 8%. In fact, as of spring 2017, these initiatives helped reduce our scope 1 carbon emissions by over 60% since 2013 and now Shippensburg University has the second lowest (out of 14 state universities in PA) emissions for facilities operations. These improvements were only part of several parallel sustainability initiatives taking place on campus since 2013 (Figure 1 and, but for us to lead the state system of higher education we needed to fill in some significant gaps in our sustainability portfolio and these are only possible through educational activities in individual courses, faculty/student research as well as through academic programs. Therefore the motivation for our program model was to help raise awareness of these gaps and develop strategies to close them through professional development, enhanced general education courses, and carefully constructed co-curricular programs and career training experiences.

In terms of academics, a number of faculty were teaching concepts of sustainability and elements of Earth literacy within courses offered by at least 4 different departments across campus. Unfortunately they were taught independently, often from a limited disciplinary perspective, and definitely without a meaningful programmatic integration. Moreover, few opportunities existed within the core liberal arts/general education level where these topics should be introduced and made accessible to students from all disciplines. As an institution, our project ultimately allowed us the opportunity to have numerous discussions and to explore a range of options for building a sustainability major while enhancing our core geobioscience curriciulum. Likewise, we sought to expand the number of opportunities for students to engage in sustainability research or internship experiences that would help them gain real-world training to support their future careers. Therefore, this InTeGrate program model was focused on facilitating the conversations, professional development, and co-curricular programming around sustainability and stewardship to grow our academic programs across campus.

Sightlines LLC (2010). FY10 Go Green MB&A Presentation, Shippensburg University. Available at: Accessed June 25, 2015.

Sightlines LLC (2017). FY17 StewardSHIP Week Presentation, Shippensburg University. Available at: Accessed June 22, 2017


In the last two years, the Shippensburg University program was successful because we were able to assemble a dedicated cadre of more than 20 faculty from departments across campus, 14 staff/administration participants and at least 18 community partners who collaborated on various curricular or co-curricular sustainability-related activities. Faculty were initially recruited from those teaching Environmental Biology and Conservation of Natural Resources courses. This was later expanded to include those teaching Introduction to Geology, Physical Geology, Applied Statistics and more. Our change-oriented colleagues were motivated to incorporate two or more of the following strategies into their respective classes:

  1. teaching sustainability through key topics including food, energy, water, natural, biological, and environmental resources, etc.
  2. teaching "systems thinking" that is used to understand complex biogeophysical processes.
  3. utilization of strategies that prepare students for the workforce with hands-on experiences that utilize service-learning, teaching in field settings, using local environment and data and/or other real world examples.
  4. connecting justice and sustainability by exploring environmental justice, risk and resilience, and geoethics.
  5. building multiple disciplinary connections necessary to evaluate and solve complex socio-scientific issues from different perspectives from the geosciences and beyond.

Program-Level Goals and Evidence

Goal 1: Complete Professional Development Program

As might be expected, systemic change requires a well-planned professional development program. This is especially true when focusing on an area like sustainability that is still a very nascent discipline. In this Shippensburg program model, we provided numerous formal and informal opportunities for faculty to gain a greater understanding of the dimensions of sustainability as well as how they might utilize a diverse array of resources and high-impact practices to incorporate sustainability into their courses, advising, or mentoring. Perhaps more importantly, this provided an avenue for faculty to connect with other like-minded faculty that enhanced their motivation and opened a forum where they could discuss applications relevant to their courses and research interests. Possibly even more importantly, the project expanded the overall level of campus dialog surrounding sustainability. Faculties, including those outside of the "traditional" sustainability fields, have subsequently decided to include more sustainability in their research and courses. Highlights related to the professional development program we implemented are summarized below.

The three main professional development activities we used to enhance our program are highlighted below. First three face-to-face workshops were held to generate awareness and interest in curriculum enhancement (December 2015, Spring 2016, and Late Summer 2016). These workshops introduced participants to active learning strategies, available learning resources and essential concepts in sustainability. Second, during spring 2016 a Sustainability Forum was held with invited guest panelists from local businesses, local government and statewide environmental awareness non-profits. This forum was kicked off with a smaller event that provided faculty an opportunity to communicate directly with the panelists prior to the forum. During the forum there was ample opportunity for faculty to ask questions, but most importantly faculty were afforded opportunities to better understand the complicated decision making process involved in promoting sustainability from various perspectives.

Lastly, we held a two-day field workshop in May 2016. This portion of the project was an intense two day traveling conference that included direct interaction with local government, a landfill and natural gas facility, an organic farm, soil and water conservation managers, the PA forest service and a local electric co-op. Throughout both days the participants (faculty, staff, community members, and student group leaders) interacted with each other and with all invited/host speakers to inspire deeper level of understanding, and new research and collaborations. The goals and objectives of these professional development activities are listed below.

  • Professional Development Workshops: These were used to generate interest and awareness in issues related to teaching, learning, and curriculum development. The objectives of these activities were to:

    • Introduce faculty to SERC and curriculum resources especially those developed through the InTeGrate program.
      • Included a campus-wide workshop focusing on Metacognition and Student Learning in collaboration with the Center for Faculty Excellence in Scholarship and Teaching (CFEST) and the Provost's Office.
    • Motivate faculty to adapt some course modules, or components or utilize InTeGrate strategies to enhance existing course materials.
    • Develop the Ecologic Footprint project across multiple courses (see below).
    • Establish new projects and initiatives to enhance existing co-curricular activities.

  • Campus Community Sustainability Forum: This was used as an activity to kick-off StewardSHIP Week, generate new community partnerships and raise awareness of the multi-disciplinary nature of sustainability. The objectives of this activity were to:

    • Bring different organizations/businesses to campus in order to provide networking opportunities for faculty, staff, and students.
    • Showcase sustainability in practice across a range of entities including: private small and large-scale businesses, government agencies, and diverse non-profits.
    • Provide high-impact opportunities for students and community members to learn about the dimensions of sustainability from environmental, business, social, political, and community perspectives.
    • Assess program impact on student interest and motivation for learning and engaging with sustainability and related topics.

  • Sustainability Field Conference: This 2-day field-based professional development was used to initiate discussion and inspire future research and/or collaborations between faculty, staff, students, and community partners. The objectives of this activity were to:

    • Engage a range of campus and community stake holders around themes related to sustainability in the Cumberland-Adams-Franklin County region.
    • Provide meaningful interchanges between local partners, faculty and student leaders on topics related to sustainable agriculture, soil conservation, food safety, community sustainability, natural resource and forest management, sustainable waste solutions, electricity generation and power supply portfolios, and more.
    • Broaden our perspectives on the challenges of sustainability for the future, and highlight potential opportunities for research.
    • Motivate new collaborations: faculty-faculty, faculty-community partner, faculty-student, and student-community partner.
    • Assess program impact on faculty and community partners.

Goal 2: Curriculum Integration

The success of our project depended on inclusion/adaptation of existing InTeGrate resources. In most instances, we supplemented existing course content (primarily in Environmental Biology or Conservation of Natural Resources) or used these resources to enhance or restructure existing course materials so they better aligned with InTeGrate principles. This was important because faculty recognized sustainability was not particularly well covered in their courses. One faculty member noted, she didn't teach about sustainability because it "was not emphasized as much as it could be because the current text doesn't' have a wealth of problems that are sustainability focused." Another reported that integrating sustainability into the courses that they teach was "very important [because] the interdisciplinary perspective is integral to [their own] research and teaching... and that it was important to emphasize that there is no "silver bullet" when it comes to environmental challenges."

The InTeGrate examples and techniques they explored during this project inspired them to use those materials or provided the framework needed to locate more relevant high-caliber case studies.

The use of InTeGrate modules by many of the faculty that participated in this project were an important aspect of the project outcomes as they provided excellent learning and reflection opportunities for faculty. Most that InTeGrated their courses used small portions of the modules that were available. Others utilized these models to improve their own existing assignments, and still others provided links to student-centered resources to supplement course readings. The curricula of many of the faculty that participated in this project are highly reflective of the elements included in the InTeGrate modules to begin with, and so it was generally not difficult to infuse or enhance their courses. In fact, many faculty reflected upon the content of their own courses prior to exposure to InteGrate and key elements that were omnipresent in the InTeGrate modules were aligned with their course goals, and further suggested that they didn't have to do significant work to further improve their courses. This reflected positively on the culture of sustainability and earth science within existing courses at Shippensburg University, but also this reflection provided opportunities to consider areas where specific topics might be better addressed using InTeGrate modules and resources. Most faculty therefore selected modules for incorporation (adapting and adopting) int their courses from the following: Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources; A Growing Concern: Sustaining Soil Resources through Local Decision Making; or Soils, Systems, and Society; Carbon, Climate and Energy Resources; or Climate of Change: Interactions and Feedbacks betwen Water, Air, and Ice. These modules highlight three key areas of sustainability and future outreach, both locally and worldwide. We also encouraged individual faculty to adopt/adapt modules from the SERC website or to utilize these as model assignments or course-embedded projects to restructure or enhance existing class activities.

Given the diverse academic goals of different departments and academic freedom of each faculty member participating, the success of our project required we allow for as much leeway as possible, but also to provide for one common assessment that could be used across multiple courses and disciplines. Therefore we ultimately settled upon a single activity that would be broad enough to be used in any course, but specific enough to provide an opportunity to increase the depth of understanding of the need for sustainability regardless of discipline.

We collectively decided to modify an Ecological Footprint assignment utilized from a previous course Env. Biology Eco Footprint Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB Jun29 17). This was designed as an easy to use, online resource that provided ample exposure to the discussion of the daily activities (housing, transportation, food, purchasing behaviors, etc.) that impact carbon emissions and environmental sustainability. This activity is derived from the Global Footprint Network website ( and its Ecological Footprint Quiz. For all faculty that participated in this project, their students were asked to complete the quiz and record their results anonymously via an online database so that data could be aggregated by course, by semester, and other demographic information. These data were used as a baseline reference point for this project and will be used going forward to assess change through time as more and more students are exposed to this assessment. Once individual results were recorded, most faculty required either a written or in-class reflection/discussion of the ecological footprint and the factors that influenced the number of acres required per year for the student's lifestyle, or his/her emissions responsibility, or the number of Earth's required to support the global population if everyone lived like the student. Faculty were also afforded access to aggregate data so that they might compare the "class" or "university-wide" profile to those of individual students so that students might develop a shared understanding and deeper perspective into their own choices relative to others so they might be motivated to consider ways they could be better stewards of natural resources.

Goal 3: Incorporate Sustainability in Co-Curricular and Career Development Programs

We used a novel, but effective method for engaging a more diverse student population through co-curricular activities and personal engagement. We specifically leveraged Earth Day into a cross-campus StewardSHIP Week, developed a Campus Sustainability Pledge, and we engaged students in the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge. In addition, we hosted an on-campus, outdoor film festival that provided an extra outlet for students to connect with the outdoors. while at the same time an opportunity to relate to sustainability at various levels and thus increase their level of understanding of sustainability. Lastly, we expanded research and internship opportunities. The details and specifics of these programs and activities are listed below.

Sustainability is a broad concept that can be incorporated into nearly every discipline and through this project we have made strides at Shippensburg University to better engage students, regardless of major or area of interest, in improving their geoscience literacy. As a liberal arts institution, one of our primary goals is to provide all students with a broad education that includes exposure to disciplines that may not have been incorporated into secondary education courses. Sustainability is truly a key aspect that is necessary for the future of society and through increased exposure at various levels we have been able to engage students to be involved and become more aware of major environmental issues at local through international levels via co-curricular and career development activities.

  • Activity and Outcomes: Expanded Earth Day into StewardSHIP Week with an Emphasis on Service-Learning Impact 3 Detailed Description (Acrobat (PDF) 291kB Dec1 16)

    • Co-organized by students, faculty and staff.
    • Focused on service-learning at the Campus Community Farm, in Michaux State Forest, and locally around the Shippensburg Community.
    • Incorporated guest speakers included faculty, service-learning site coordinators, facilities staff, and others.
    • Enhanced opportunities for course-embedded student research projects (to develop displays, educational games, film screenings, etc. centered on natural resources and sustainability)
    • link:

  • Activity and Outcomes: Development of a Campus Sustainability Pledge

    • Student initiative developed a campus-wide voluntary sustainability pledge to encourage campus community to work to improve their footprint.
    • Collaboration between multiple clubs and student leaders, inspired by the Green Allies Conference held at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.
    • As of May, 2017 >200 students and 40 faculty members have signed the sustainability pledge and identified 5 or more practices completed each week to be a better steward of our resources today and for the future.
    • Open comments on the pledge page allow for feedback and produce many new ideas for future projects to further cultivate change.
    • link:

    • Sponsored by Outdoor Nation and the National Parks Service, the campus-wide challenge was designed to get students and community members involved in outdoor activities, service-learning and other health and awareness-building activities.
    • Six week long (Fall 2016) social media-based competition between 89 other universities across the U.S.
    • Celebrated 8th place finish with >460 participants logging 3163 outdoor activities (hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, gardening, environmental education, etc.).
    • Inspired new and returning students to discover/re-discover their love for the outdoors and the rich natural resources of our region.
    • Integrated as a requirement or extra credit opportunity for several courses including Introduction to Geology, GIS I, and Applied Statistics.

    • 4-day festival hosted by community partners including the South Mountain Partnership, PA Parks and Forests Foundation, Chartwell's, and Keen Live Monumental via the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge.
    • Focused on local, regional, national, and global sustainability and stewardship through historical retrospectives, modern case studies, and motivational films designed to empower students through knowledge.
    • Solar-cooked popcorn provided to >120 participants.
    • Raised awareness of critical issues, and inspired stewardship choices to help improve sustainability at local to global scales as more than 80 students signed petitions to encourage development of new national park areas in Oregon, California, and West Virginia.

  • Activity and Outcomes: Joint Faculty-Student Research and Internships: Career Training Experiences

    • Encouraged joint faculty-student research projects and student internship experiences that focused specifically on sustainability
    • Three independent student research projects initiated and were linked directly to sustainability and real word applications (sustainable agriculture, photogrammetry of artificial oyster reefs, and recycling baseline assessment).
    • or example see: link:
    • Students report importance of these independent projects as "more meaningful because [they] had ownership of the project, and learned clear linkages between the project's outcomes and real-world applications".
    • All Geo/ESS majors are required to complete internships in order to graduate.
    • 38 Spring and summer 2016 student interns found placements with 23 different partners, and 13 completed a survey about their internship experience
    • All 13 reported that their internship was directly or indirectly related to sustainability and 8/12 reported that they benefited or gained directly (large or very large gains) from the internship in the area of sustainability.
    • Respondents also reported that their internship inspired them to improve their academic outcomes (upon return to campus), and cited gains in data collection, field/laboratory work, interpretation of results, etc.
    • Data indicate students are more aware of the dimensions of sustainability, but are doing so through professional work environments. The fact that such a high percentage of students are reporting gains is promising for continuation of our efforts moving forward when the new major is approved.
    • Student Internship Survey (Acrobat (PDF) 86kB Dec1 16)
    • Impact 9 Detailed Description and Survey Data (Acrobat (PDF) 194kB Dec1 16)

  • Activity and Outcome: Library-Hosted Sustainability Resources Website

Unexpected Outcomes

Outcome 1: Recognition of our Sustainability Initiatives

2016 Campus Sustainability Champion

Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium awarded SU the title of Campus Sustainability Champion for 2016 in recognition of our meaningful contributions benefiting social, economic and/or environmental sustainability on campus, in the community, and for society at large.

Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge

As part of our sustainability program, Shippensburg University was one of the 90 schools that participated in the 2016 Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge. We finished in 8th place, among Universities such as Humboldt State, Prescott College, and Texas Woman's University. This event brought attention to sustainability and outdoor activities across the nation.

Long-term Impact and Next Steps

The Academic Master Plan of Shippensburg University has themes related to learning outside of the classroom through internships, joint student-faculty research and service-learning experiences. At SU, we often refer to the out-of-class learning experiences, especially service-learning, as necessary stewardship. The formulation of this InTeGrate project, and the many discussions and critical thinking that resulted helped us formulate our new logo for sustainability at Shippensburg.

This "sustainability engine" demonstrates the connection between the university with the community; through the interconnections of the engine, we can work toward realizing more sustainable practices not only in operations across the university, but through our curriculum and student outcomes.

Perhaps the biggest lesson we have learned is that faculty, administrators, and students need to be provided with diverse opportunities to connect and learn together to cultivate meaningful change. With our extremely demanding workload, decreasing financial resources for classroom and field experiences and even rarer resources to support professional development opportunities (note prior comment about cancellation of CFEST seminar programs this spring), it is indeed infrequent that we can get together to learn and interact outside of our individual departments.

Given the importance of making time and providing opportunities for mutual engagement between multiple parties, we have already started to plan programs to further this effort. Through encouraging students, faculty, staff, and others to connect with our local region, we are tackling projects at the level of the administration (working with facilities for instance to enhance capacity of campus to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, developing new curriculum innovations, etc.), student organizations, and individual classrooms and faculty. In this effort alone there will be renewed effort on the part of student clubs and organizations to promote service-learning activities that will help members of our university community to become engaged and make a commitment to being better informed citizenry.