Infusing classes with environmental sustainability

In 2012, Penn’s Green Campus Partnership established a program as an avenue for University faculty to invigorate current and new courses by incorporating environmental sustainability in their classrooms.

Since then, the Integrating Sustainability Across the Curriculum (ISAC) Program has helped foster innovative course development and faculty-student collaboration for 14 courses, and will soon add even more to the list. The Green Campus Partnership is accepting faculty applications through Feb. 3 for the Summer 2014 ISAC program.

“One of the main threads of the Climate Action Plan is academics on campus, and so there’s a real interest in infusing the academic culture with sustainability,” says University Architect David Hollenberg. “So this has been a very exciting initiative for us.”

Faculty applicants chosen for the program explore sustainability concepts at a one-day workshop in the late spring. The following summer, they are partnered with an undergraduate student research assistant integrating sustainability into the course syllabi, lectures, assignments, reading material, and tests.

ISAC Penn

“The feedback we’ve received from students is that they had no idea the amount of work and effort that goes into developing a course,” says Sarah Fisher, sustainability strategic planning associate for Green Campus Partnership. “It gives them a perspective for what it’s like to be a professor, how to teach, and becoming an expert on these topics—it’s really a unique experience.”

The research assistants work 40 hours a week for eight weeks starting in June, and are paid by funds made available by the Academics Subcommittee of Penn’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee. Each student works with two separate ISAC program faculty members, fostering cross-collaboration.

“If faculty are vaguely interested, they should not come to the conclusion that there’s not a sustainability option to their topic,” Hollenberg says. “I think it’s a way to challenge faculty to say, ‘Would what you teach be refreshed by a [sustainability] perspective?’” 

Previous courses that have flourished under ISAC include several Earth and Environmental Science courses such as “Principles of Sustainability Science” and “Landscape Sustainability,” as well as some potentially surprising picks such as a German “Utopian Visions” course and Communication “Critical Approaches to Popular Culture” course.

“The main thing we’re looking for [in applicants] is enthusiasm and heart for collaboration,” Fisher says. “We want [applicants] to have an interest to look at a section of a course through a different lens, and apply it throughout the whole course.”

Faculty members who are interested in applying for the ISAC program should submit a one-page proposal describing an existing or proposed course, indicating the reason for integrating sustainability into the course and a brief work plan for the student assistant. Proposals should be sent to sustainability@upenn.edu with “ISAC Application” in the subject line.

For more information on the ISAC program, visit the Green Campus Partnership website or email sustainability@upenn.edu.

Originally published on January 16, 2014