Sustainability education is an essential pursuit of any college or university that desires to be relevant in the 21st century. Ecological, economic, and political consequences of living beyond our means are becoming increasingly apparent and the transition to a sustainable society is widely regarded as the most important challenge of this generation. Some students have a heightened awareness of these contemporary issues and recognize when their professors miss opportunities to connect lectures and coursework to sustainability, however, most students lack basic literacy in sustainability issues and are unprepared to lead the country and the world toward a healthier future.
The University of Maryland has called for sustainability education in a number of ways. In 2007, the University of Maryland became a charter signatory of the American College and Universities Presidents Climate Commitment pledging to cut campus greenhouse gas emissions and integrate sustainability in the curriculum. The University Strategic Plan (2008) identifies sustainability as a central institutional value and proposes its inclusion in the General Education core curriculum. The demand for sustainability education is apparent and the need to help faculty members learn how to integrate sustainability in the curriculum is pressing.
The Sustainability Teaching Fellows program addresses this need. This two-day workshop is based on a model developed at colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. Hundreds of faculty members have participated in their institutions' respective workshops and have revised hundreds of course syllabi to include sustainability. The following is a brief sampling of courses revised by faculty workshop participants:
- Organic Chemistry - using Green Chemistry laboratory techniques and assessing environmental impacts of chemical processes
- Business Finance - using financial analysis to explore how businesses can alter their environmental impact or the environmental impact of their products
- English - using "walks in the woods" to explore concepts in American literature and encouraging the exploration of sustainability through course assignments
These examples only scratch the surface of the many unique ways that professors have integrated sustainability into courses in every discipline. Experience shows that faculty members from disciplines as diverse as engineering and fine art can find common ground in the universal values of sustainability and will work together during and beyond the workshop to tie those values to their courses.