New sustainability minor underscores going green

A new minor degree program aims to provide students with greater knowledge and experience in environmental issues and the growing job market related to sustainability.

The recently approved minor in sustainability studies requires 21 credit hours of study in a wide variety of courses that engage ideas, projects and policies for better environmental stewardship.

“One of the early debates we had was, ‘Will this minor give students a breadth of sustainability understanding or do we want depth?’” said Lisa Glidden, an adviser to students in the minor and a member of the college Climate Action Steering Committee that proposed it. “We decided pretty early on that we wanted depth, we wanted the students who graduate to have a pretty good idea of the challenges and to have ideas about potential fixes.”

Students working in energy technology lab.The minor’s requirements include core courses in geology and in economics/political science; a choice among biology, anthropology and physics classes; and electives in biology, chemistry, economics, geology, meteorology, political science, psychology and technology.

“It’s a growing minor, so we anticipate more courses,” said Glidden, an assistant professor of political science. “Interest in sustainability education is growing among faculty and certainly among students, so we are hoping to add more choices, and we also are hoping to have students involved in projects so they can get experience while they are here.”

Practical solutions

Tom Kubicki’s class in energy technology recently worked outside with photovoltaic cells, measuring energy output using homemade devices called insolometers. Modules of such cells make up commercial solar panels. Sustainability is a common thread running through all technology courses, he said, not just this one, an elective in the new minor.

Students with outdoor solar energy device.“I teach alternative energy, but I have been an environmentalist and conservationist my whole life, from Boy Scouts on up,” said Kubicki, an assistant professor of technology. “‘Low-impact living’ has been my philosophy my whole life.”

Kubicki said students with sustainability minor would move on to be productive citizens, to vote and to carry on the concepts learned at Oswego, with the help of real, contextual, hands-on work on projects such as the ones his class does.

Venera Jouraeva, visiting assistant professor of chemistry, loves teaching environmental science, an elective in the new minor.

“I think sustainability education is very important,” Jouraeva said. “For one thing, I think environmental education is lagging (in this country). We have people who don’t know that the food we eat has been modified or that we have an ozone problem or they don’t believe in global warming. I think it is important for everyone to have an environmental education if we’re going to sustain our planet.”

Fulfilling a vision

The minor provides academic support for the vision behind the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley signed in June 2007, and for sustainability efforts that gained new momentum on campus this summer with submission of the college’s first STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) report.

Casey Raymond, co-chair of the Presidents’ Climate Commitment and Environmental Sustainability Team, said SUNY Oswego’s STARS rating shows the college is doing “pretty well,” but a new minor in sustainability studies helps the forward momentum.

“There are a few things we are highlighting that we’re lacking, and one is assessment of student sustainability literacy,” Raymond said. “We can build on this minor and the courses in it to gain some clear ideas and definitions of what sustainability content is.”

Glidden and Glenn Graham, associate professor of economics and coordinator of the minor, created a core course titled “Economic and Political Foundations of Sustainability.”

“Everybody knows sustainability is a problem,” Glidden said. “People tend to study it from the economic perspective or from the political perspective. When you get a group of people together in a room to figure out solutions, everyone is talking past one another.  The policy people don’t understand the language of economics (and vice versa). The whole purpose of this foundational class is so that when the students graduate, they can go into a business and use the terminology of ‘incentives’ and ‘opportunity costs’ and still be able to promote a sustainable agenda.”

PHOTO CAPTION 1: Energetic testing—Tim Governale, left, a SUNY Oswego senior technology education major, holds a photovoltaic cell—used to convert light energy to electricity—while Steve Badaracco, a junior technology education major, measures energy output Nov. 4 in Tom Kubicki’s class in energy technology. The course is one of 14 that students may apply toward the electives requirement for a new 21-credit-hour minor in sustainability studies.

PHOTO CAPTION 2: Sun seekers—SUNY Oswego faculty member Tom Kubicki explains to his energy technology class how a photovoltaic panel works as Erica Querns, a junior technology education major, uses an electronic protractor to position the panel perpendicular to the energy source, the sun. Kubicki, a lifelong conservationist, believes the college’s new sustainability minor will produce graduates who will be better stewards of natural resources.

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(Posted: Nov 10, 2011)

Tags: vitality, sustainability