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Sustainability Education: An Every-Class Act

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Summer is the season when many Minnesotans think about taking vacations. Although a few travel to faraway lands and learn about different cultures, many of us think about going "up north," to cabins, state parks or the Boundary Waters. This year experts on sustainability from across the University of Minnesota and two other institutions found a way to bring work and an up-north vacation together into a fun-filled outdoor learning experience.

Sustainability Across the Curriculum was a two-day event at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, a University-owned research site a few miles outside of the Twin Cities. The goal of the event was to introduce professionals across all disciplines to the concept of sustainability and to encourage them to integrate it into their coursework and daily life.

When you hear about sustainability conferences, you probably think of the usual mix of attendees: ecologists, agriculturists, environmentalists. This conference, however, was anything but usual. Faculty from languages, biology, business, design, political science and anthropology were all represented. The conference also brought together participants from all of the University's five campuses and beyond. It was truly a comprehensive event.

The interdisciplinary nature of the workshop was one of the most talked-about aspects of the weekend. Cedar Creek education coordinator Mary Spivey said one of her favorite parts was "realizing the extreme range of backgrounds of the participants." Jim Zaffiro, a participant from Central College in Iowa said, "My favorite part of the workshop was getting to know people from so many interdisciplinary departments." Beth Kautz, an education specialist with the College of Liberal Arts Language Center, found value in "people coming in from so many different disciplines."

Coming from a private college outside of Minnesota, Zaffiro was able to offer a new and different perspective on sustainability issues in education. "It was really enjoyable and valuable for me to work with people from a university," he said. Although there are various limitations and opportunities in both public and private colleges, he added, "we don't live in different universes." The uniting feature was that they were all working toward sustainability.

"Sustainability at the University of Minnesota may be on the cusp of embracing issues of social equity and asking who the environment is for," said Beth Mercer-Taylor, sustainability education coordinator for the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and organizer of the event. The goal of the work, she said, is "to make a sustainable world for people." 

Workshop organizers are already discussing plans for next year. "I do hope we do it again," said Spivey. "I feel like we're onto something."

Photo courtesy of Keith Yanner

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.