For ISAC Interns, A Summer Well Spent

ISAC 2013 interns and advisors
October 23, 2013

Working as a summer research assistant is not an uncommon experience at Penn. From engineering to English, graduate students and undergrads spend the summer on campus, helping professors conduct research in their field.  In the new Integrating Sustainability Across the Curriculum (ISAC) research assistantships, students bring concepts of environmental sustainability to subjects as diverse as introductory-level microeconomics and visions of utopian society.

(See Partner Profile, On College Green, July 2013).

The ISAC program, funded by the Academics Subcommittee of Penn’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee, helps Penn faculty introduce environmental sustainability into existing and new courses. Faculty who wish to “green” their courses are paired with undergraduate summer student research assistants tasked with integrating sustainability into the course syllabi, lectures, assignments, reading material, and tests. The program places students with two professors each to foster cross-pollination of ideas and collaboration.

Last summer, Luke Saputelli, C’15, split his course research between Andrew Huemmler’s Climate Policy & Technology and Alain Plante’s Principals of Sustainability Science.  The first task for Dr. Huemmler’s class was to refresh the reading list. “In this field, articles become outdated so quickly,” explained Luke, that “even articles from 2008 are no longer relevant.” In looking for new pieces for the reading list, Luke learned so much that he was able to offer new suggestions for the program that even Dr. Huemmler had not read yet.

“Half of my effort is content management,” said Dr. Huemmler. “Luke’s work provides a really solid content basis for me.” Luke’s research overlapped with Dr. Plante’s class as well, providing a strong foundation for building the Principles of Sustainability Science course, which will be offered next semester.

College Senior Rosemary Santos brought her research skills and technology acumen to Sustainability in Practice, a Penn Design Coursera class taught by Mark Alan Hughes and Leslie Billhymer, and to Cities & Sustainability taught by Ariel Ben Amos in the Urban Studies Department. The Coursera platform poses new challenges for class design, as the material has to be structured to stand on its own, “since students can’t ask as many questions during a Coursera as they can in a traditional classroom,” Rosemary explained.  Prof. Hughes found Rosemary’s familiarity with applications like Prezi invaluable — so much so that at the end of the summer, he did not hesitate to hire her for the fall semester to continue providing input into the class.

For the students, the ISAC program becomes an immersion experience in sustainability research. “What I hadn’t experienced at Penn before,” said Luke, “was this level of interaction with the professors.   I wasn’t simply carrying out a task assigned to me — I had input in the academic process itself, working as a partner to create new course content.”

Faculty applications for the ISAC program in Summer 2014 will be accepted in January. Student research assistant applications will be solicited in the Spring.


A zero waste event is one in which at least 90% of the waste is diverted from the landfill through enhanced recycling and/or composting efforts.

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