Summer Research Assistants Bring to Life Integrating Sustainability Across the Curriculum

October 10, 2012

The Integrating Sustainability across the Curriculum (ISAC) program was launched this year to help develop new sustainability-themed or -focused courses at Penn.  Following a one-day workshop on environmental themes, 11 self-selecting professors were matched with summer undergraduate research interns.  Students and faculty spent eight weeks working together revising existing or developing new courses in a dynamic and interactive experience:  researching material for the courses, developing new assignments, and compiling reading lists, among other tasks.

ISAC interns, supported by a Climate Action Plan Academics Subcommittee stipend, built camaraderie amongst themselves during field trips to the Morris Arboretum Horticultural Center and Revolution Recovery’s recycling plant in Northeast Philadelphia. Meg Schneider (C’13) called the recycling tour “a worthwhile experience showing a win/win/win scenario that's often discussed theoretically in my environmental classes.”  As a second opportunity for group learning, the interns attended a half-dozen brown-bag lunches over the summer with senior Penn staff such as University Architect David Hollenberg and Penn Director of Real Estate Acquisitions Paul Sehnert, who shared career advice and job experiences.

Professors reported excellent outcomes from the focused assistance provided by the interns. “The ability to participate in the inaugural ISAC program resulted in the productive expansion of Construction Technology 1 — a required course for undergraduates pursuing an Architecture major at Penn,” said Franca Trubiano, Assistant Professor of Architecture. “It afforded me and Mary Tsai (C’13) the opportunity to integrate subjects such as life cycle cost assessment of building materials and third-party cloud computing environmental analysis of building information models. The ability to add these two topics to the class ensures my students are exposed to the most challenging environmental questions faced by the building industry today. This curricular transformation would have been impossible without the support of the ISAC Program.”

College junior Lauren Kaufmann said she treasures her time as an ISAC intern: “I truly enjoyed becoming a part of the Penn professional community in such a short amount of time.” Meg Schneider called the connection with Penn staff and faculty “very enlightening in terms of my future career path. Although originally I had thought of going into the business world, I realized I really enjoyed academic research in the field of sustainability.”

In a final poster session, the students shared what they learned during the internship and the summary course materials they created. Lauren Kaufmann added, “By the end of the summer, I had made new friends, completed an exciting intellectual journey through an entire field of scholarship, and helped create an entirely new Earth and Environment Science syllabus from scratch.”

Thanks to the interns’ work, the following ten new and revised courses, available to undergraduate and graduate students, will explore exciting aspects of sustainability, environmental responsibility, and measurable ecological impact.

  • Environmental Chemistry (Chemistry, taught by Marsha Lester)
  • Landscape Sustainability (Earth and Environmental Science, taught by Doug Jerolmack)
  • Sustainable Goods (Earth and Environmental Science, taught by James Hagan)
  • Construction Technology 1 (Design, taught by Franca Trubiano)
  • Critical Approaches to Popular Culture (Communications, taught by Felicity Paxton)
  • Utopian Visions (German, taught by Bethany Wiggin)
  • History of Coca to Cocaine (History, taught by Ann Farnsworth)
  • Educating for Sustainability (Education, taught by Liz MacKenzie)
  • Metropolitan Nature (Urban Studies, taught by Michael Nairn)
  • Introduction to Economics (Economics, taught by Rebecca Stein)

View the complete Sustainability Course Inventory.

Summer 2013 Faculty Workshop Application Period will open December 2012.


A four-mile bicycle trip keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe.

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