The Earth Sustainability Liberal Education Program: An experiment in integrative learning

Information for this profile was provided by Barbara Bekken, Geosciences, Virginia Tech. Students in this program are pursuing a bachelors degree.

Program Design & Assessment


Earth Sustainability is an experimental program in liberal education wherein students complete all of their general education requirements by participating in this integrative and interdisciplinary program over four semesters.


Virginia Tech was interested in new models for general education. We were interest in creating a STEM-saturated and topically relevant interdisciplinary program in liberal education that promoted students' social and cognitive development.

Program Goals

Earth Sustainability was designed to meet many of the fourteen essential learning outcomes advocated by AAC&Us 2007 LEAP report. Our goals were to provide students with an excellent program in liberal education that challenged them to adopt more sophisticated ways of knowing, thinking and learning about the resource challenges that will become increasingly more acute in this century.

Alumni Careers

As a program in liberal education, Earth Sustainability is designed for students in all majors and it had participants from all of Virginia Tech's seven colleges that serve undergraduate students.

Program Assessment

We used a wide range of published quantitative measures that evaluated epistemological development, learning beliefs, motivation, learning strategies, and critical thinking. We also interviewed students to determine their majors, level of campus and community involvement, career preparation, and clarity about their professional and personal goals.

Courses and Sequencing

Entry into the program

The Earth Sustainability series was open to first-year students. As such it was a first-year experience course that continued with the same cohort of students for two years.

Core courses

The Earth Sustainability series was made up of four, five-credit courses: 1) Worldviews and Water, 2) Energy and Shelter, 3) Agriculture and Food, and 4) Waste, Health, and Pathways to the Future.


There were no electives. The Earth Sustainability series was a 20 credit alternative to general education at Virginia Tech. As such it fulfilled all areas of VT's Curriculum for Liberal Education.

Other requirements or key features

Participation in a study abroad program taken the summer or fall following completion of the Earth Sustainability program was strongly recommended.


Bekken, Barbara and Joan Marie, 2007. Making Self-Authorship a Goal of Core Curricula: The Earth Sustainability Pilot Project, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, n. 109, pp. 53-67.

Olsen, Deborah, Barbara M. Bekken, Kathryne Drezek McConnell, and Charles T. Walter, 2011. Teaching for Change: Learning Partnerships and Epistemological Growth, JGE: The Journal of General Education, v. 60, n. 3, pp. 139-171.