coffee connection: the sustainability dance

Today I discussed the difference between a curriculum that supports sustainability education versus cross-curricular activities that supports education for sustainability. The discussion began eight a few weeks ago when we met at a sustainability teaching workshop. At the workshop, we began a dialogue about pedagogy for sustainability. It began when groups of instructors and professors developed small course activity focused on sustainability issues. As each group presented a 15 min. lesson plan based on an object provided by the workshop coordinators,the types of comments they received from other faculty at the University focused on elements that made the activity useful in a traditional “active learning” sense. This was unsatisfying to me. Having read a lot of Arnim Wiek’s writing on sustainability pedagogy that synthesizes across the sustainability majors and sustainable development majors. His review identifies five areas of “competency” for sustainability as a field. This includes building a capacity to: think about systems, understand the normative dimensions of decision-making,connect future scenarios with current action, evaluate the influence and feasibility of interventions,and develop knowledge beyond an individual’s capacity. In the workshop we talked about systems thinking, but not these other five elements. Further, we did not discuss whether these elements were all equivalently appropriate in it the case where sustainability education is infused across many curricula instead of existing in a single department, major, or center. I thought about this a lot in terms of Jennifer teaching, which includes dance courses offered to non-dance majors. In her teaching, she has encountered many students to do not think, for example, that climate change is an issue that they should understand or want to understand.

Philosophically, I believe adding you types of people to think about sustainability is perhaps the biggest challenge and the the biggest opportunity facing educators. If indeed we do share a common future, that future depends on activating systems of knowledge across interests and experiences. What it requires, is developing open-mindedness in a way that does not preclude evaluation. That is to say, the ability to understand competing viewpoints and evaluate their legitimacy with respect to a host of valuable outcomes.  An earlier presentation by Terry Chapin at the NRES seminar inspired similar thoughts.  the activities Jennifer developed related to bird migration and understanding all birds are real opportunities to inspire creativity. These activities can both engage broader audiences than is possible through fact sheets or other common ways of directly providing scientific information. This is a benefit both to the bread for people in each wing scientific information a lot broader impacts and to the scientists themselves because it provides new ways of experiencing knowledge and confronting relationships. Jennifer that the forefront of recognizing this connection.  She developed this amazing birdbrain project that introduces migration physiology and behavior to audiences through dance (see video below).   She has a nonprofit organization in New York City called Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art Nature and Dance (iLAND ) that sponsors scientists and choreographers to work together to understand urban ecology through movement, science, and mutual inquiry.  This was especially exciting to me given recent work with documentary filmmakers about urban exposure to lead through the pbcookies project and earlier work with photographers at Arizona State University to understand the role of water in the desert.  on a more idiosyncratic level, it was great to hear that iLAND was sponsoring collaborative work that built on the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science DIY remote sensing balloon project and was familiar with the urban ecology work of Steward Pickett and and the Baltimore LTER. This bodes well for many of the urban gardening ancillary projects that Kirsten and I have discussed.

If you are a nerd like us, here is the Weik paper citation:

Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C. L. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science, 6(2), 203-218. doi:10.1007/s11625-011-0132-6

Cool links: Urban forest radio essays

Good friend and collaborator Dr. Kirsten Schwarz presented research at the 2012 Association of American Geographers that focused on the relationships between patterns in the social and economic diversity of a city and the distribution or urban tree canopy. Her work makes comparisons across several U.S. cities that have tree planting initiatives and asks whether the ways these new trees are distributed could reduce environmental inequities and lays the groundwork for future work concerning the ultimate impact of tree location on public health and the services urban ecosystems provide to local residents, and the economic costs and benefits of different planting and maintenance strategies. She passed along TALES FROM URBAN FORESTS , produced by the US Forest Service that is a great resource for people interested in learning about urban forests.  After living in Phoenix, I’m partial to the stories about the impacts of the urban heat island effect on human health, especially in poorer neighborhoods.


Illinois wins grant to study what helps underrepresented minority students succeed in STEM doctoral programs | Graduate College at Illinois

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education covers changes in community college enrollment and their role in society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Full disclosure:  I had shoulder surgery last week, so this post is likely to be a little disjointed (pardon the pun).

I’m really proud to work at an institution that recognizes the value of attracting diverse students to higher education.  NRES has a fellowship to support underrepresented students and there are many university-wide initiatives available to highly qualified students.  It sounds cheesy, but there is real value in diversity.  Ideological diversity is the key to creativity and novel problem identification and solving.  As an interdisciplinary scholar, I am keenly aware of the ability of a new perspective to disrupt assumptions.  Gender, race, class, geography, sexuality, and countless other differences shape our perspective on the world.  Encountering and engaging across world views and life experiences allows the opportunity for greater synthesis and appreciation for the nuances of living on earth.  In the highly political climate we’re living in, it is easy to shut off and shut down ideas that are different.  But isn’t science all about testing assumptions?  I think so.  And I think that is my liberal education talking.  (And by liberal, I mean – open to alternative viewpoints, not necessarily left-leaning.)

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Circular of the Network for Cooperation in Integrated Water Resource Management for Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean

This document from the United Nations offers a great overview of the way nations are confronting the water-related challenges associated with climate change by trying to reach collaborative strategies that are adaptive to changes in environmental conditions.  I think the “open discussion” sections highlights the nexus of a lot of interdisciplinary research calls of late:  there are interactions between changes in weather and climate and societies and the relatively fixed nature of many traditionally engineered infrastructures.  In recent interactions with other professors at the University of Illinois, I have been thinking a lot about engineered flexibility, “soft-path” solutions, and building the social capacity, rule enforcement mechanisms, and constructed systems to allow for these to remain useful.  I’m thinking specifically about the utility of things like decentralized water reuse and water treatment.  Backyard berms, for example, are a great idea, but there is a level of buy-in and maintenance that needs to occur at a household or neighborhood level that makes me skeptical of their long-term success.  Neighborhood turn-over due to a collapsing housing market, for example, would likely undermine system efficacy.  New residents, might choose to use their yards for a different set of ecosystem services.  Recent examples include the movement toward re-installing lawns in Las Vegas.  I have a yet untested hypothesis about homeowner’s associations and other similar agents that make and enforce long-term rules as being more effective in maintaining these systems than neighborhoods with more overt environmental values.  Let’s take Phoenix, AZ as an example…

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Broader Impacts: citizen science participation

Science for Citizens Blog.

There are a lot of good ways to get things done without wasting people’s time….and to use the time people are already wasting!

I was captivated by two recent events:  (1) a lecture by the people running Zooniverse , a citizen science telescope image id project and (2) a discussion with colleagues from the Department of Crop Sciences that a graduate student recently digitized all the urban gardens in Chicago from Google Earth (and I mean more than just the official ones posted here).

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Sustainability Seeks Success on Campus

After attending the festivities of Sustainability Week, there is no doubt in my mind that the University of Illinois is taking the right steps in becoming a more sustainable environment.  With over 250 courses in 43 different departments, education on sustainability as well as sustainable decision making are major concerns at this university.  Currently iCAP, Illinois Climate Action Plan, has set a campus-wide goal to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2050.  The major initiatives involved in this process are food and waste composting, renewable energy, space management, education and outreach, energy conservation, purchase of local foods, active transportation, behavior modification and water conservation.  Each effort has specific projects and aims in order to achieve the ultimate goal.  Some of the current projects include the LEED initiative at Lincoln Hall.  The renovations on this building are projected to receive a gold standing in LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  Already, the new residence hall, Nugent Hall, has received a silver standing for its sustainable design.  Another project currently under way is the Bike Sharing program.  This program is funded by the Student Sustainability Committee with plans to update the present university Bike Plan.  The new plan entails Bike Fix-It stations across campus including air pumps and other tools to fix broken bikes.  Bettering the transportation system, and improving building energy conservation are just two of the ways in wich the University is planning to achieve its goal and ultimately create a cleaner, greener, more sustainable campus.

Sustainability Week Begins November 1

Campus Highlight: University of Illinois holds Sustainability Week!

On November 1st-4th, students can immerse themselves in the multiple sustainability events on campus.  From bike repairs to garden walks, the Office of Sustainability promotes awareness of  sustainable decisions applicable to everyday life.  Each day, different activites and events are provided.  Come out and see what our campus has to offer!

Tuesday, November 1st:

10am-2pm: Bike Repair Station:Volunteers will be on hand to evaluate your bike and do simple maintenance. North of Henry Admin Building on the Quad

12pm: Garden walk with Diane Anderson, Research and Education Specialist in Crop Sciences and Michele Guerra, Director of Wellness Center: The walk features Red Oak Rain Garden, Illini Grove, Idea Garden, Sunken (Hartley) Garden, Japan House Gardens, new Arboretum trails.The group will meet at the main entrance of the Campus Recreation Center East Building, 1102 W. Gregory Drive.

12-6pm: Sustainability Poster & Art session: ARC Winter Garden, 201 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign

4-6pm: Sustainable Student Farmer’s Market: The farmer’s market will provide fall produce for sale from our student farm on the University of Illinois campus. ARC Winter Garden, 201 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign

6pm: Recyclables Costume Contest: Use your imagination and come up with a homemade costume out of recyclable materials. Prizes will be awarded. Refreshments following. ARC Winter Garden, 201 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign * Registration is required*

6:30pm: Latrelle Bright, Director, performer and arts advocate in the Department of Theatre will be performing a solo performance piece “matter”: Graduate Dance Center, East Art Annex 2, 1206 W. Peabody Drive, Urbana

Wednesday, November 2nd:

12-6pm: Sustainability Poster & Art session: ARC Winter Garden, 201 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign

1:30-3:30pm: iCAP Forum open house: A review and progress report of the University’s Climate Action Plan, originally signed May 2010. Participants will be able to provide feedback, suggestions, and comments. Illini Union, 1401 W. Green Street, Urbana, Rooms B&C

4pm: Quad walk with Chancellor Wise: The walk will feature sustainability projects on the quad.Michele Guerra, Director of the Wellness Center will be leading the walk. The group will meet outside at the south entrance of the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green Street, Urbana.*This is an “approved event” for civil service employees.  Employees may attend, without loss of pay or having to charge a benefit, with prior supervisory approval and operations permitting.*

6:30-9:30pm: CyclingSavvy traffic cycling course with Gary Cziko and Carl Stewart: ARC Auditorium, 201 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign * “Registration recommended to ensure a place in the course. Walk-ins welcome as space allows.”
Thursday, November 3rd:

11am-1pm: Sustainable Student Farmer’s Market: The farmer’s market will provide fall produce for sale from our student farm on the University of Illinois campus. 57 North, Ikenberry Dining Hall, 301 E. Gregory Drive, Champaign

*Bookstore remote sales stations selling books related to sustainability

12-6pm: Sustainability Poster & Art session: ARC Winter Garden, 201 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign

1-2pm: Energy Rate Structure “Town Hall” with Jack Dempsey, Executive Director of Facilities and Services: An explanation of how utility rates are set for campus and what factors go in to the calculations. Illini Union, 1401 W. Green Street, Urbana, Room B

2-3pm: Campus Master Plan with Helen Coleman, Director of Campus Planning: Overview of campus planning and processes and how projects flow from idea to construction. Illini Union, 1401 W. Green Street, Urbana, Room B

4-5:30pm: Green Career Panel with Chris Pyke, Vice President Research at USGBC.  Join Chris and other professionals in the green industry to discuss recent and future trends in this growing career path.  Other participants include: Bart Hagston, Environmental Sustainability Manager at City of Urbana, Lacey Rains Lowe, Planner at City of Champaign, Wayne Wargo, Site Director at Abbott Nutrition, and Cassie Carroll at Illinois Green Business Association: Asian American Cultural Center, 1210 W. Nevada Street, Urbana

4:30-8pm: Dining Services 8th Annual Chef’s Challenge: This year’s event will be a mystery box theme featuring proteins provided by the Meat Sciences Lab.  They will also be providing a pantry to each team to cook with featuring local products.  There will be six teams competing from Catering, PAR, IKE, LAR, ISR, and Busey.  Each team consists of a chef/coach and two full time dining employees.Ikenberry Dining Hall multipurpose room, 301 E. Gregory Drive, Champaign

7pm: Chris Pyke, Vice President Research, U.S. Green Building Council: “Accelerating Green Building Market Transformation with Information Technology” will be speaking at Newmark Hall, room 1310, Stoughten Street, Urbana ** Chris Pyke is part of the Sustainable Innovations Seminar Series, a collaboration between the University of Illinois and ERDC-CERL-CASI**:

Friday, November 4th:

2:30-3:30pm: Students Sustainability Chat with Chancellor Wise: As part of the Chancellor’s listening and learning tour the sustainability related RSO’s have been invited to give short presentations.  There will also be time for questions and answers. University YMCA, Latzer Hall
** Student Registration is required**
Shoe Donation:
The ARC and CRCE will be collecting shoes throughout the week to donate to local charities. Please stop by one of the locations below.

ARC – 201 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign, IL
CRCE – 1102 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL

For more information: