Dr. Jane Dmochowski, Managing Director of the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER), and Dr. Ann Greene, Adjunct Assistant Professor and Associate Director for the Undergraduate Studies Department of History and Sociology of Science, are two faculty members leading the charge in enhancing Penn's sustainability-focused academic offerings.
Last month they organized a full-day workshop -- Integrating Sustainability Across the Curriculum – that provided faculty with an introduction to environmental themes such as limits to growth, resource conservation, feedback and amplification effects, identifying indicators of change, social equity and the environment, behavior change, and communications strategies.
Read on for our interview with Jane and Ann...
Anne Greene: I graduated from Brown University as a history major, and spent the next two decades teaching secondary school history and geography. When I moved to Philadelphia in the nineties, I started graduate work at Penn and ended up in the PHD program in the Penn History department. Along the way I discovered environmental history and the history of technology and ended up writing about animal power and industrialization as a way to explore the intersection of those two fields. My dissertation was published as Horses At Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America (Harvard, 2008). Since then I have worked in the History and Sociology of Science Department doing all the things I like best: advising students, working on curriculum, teaching, administering, and continuing to research and publish.
Jane Dmochowski: Inspired by Sally Ride, I wanted to become an astrophysicist and astronaut so I went to college at UC Santa Barbara with the intention of majoring in physics. However, I took a general education class in Geology in my sophomore year and was hooked. (I also realized I was claustrophobic and wouldn't do too well in a spaceship!) I went to the Geology Department and was sent to a professor who described herself as a geophysicist. She was amazing, opened up a whole new world to me, and encouraged me to pursue my Ph.D. at Caltech. Within a couple years of discovering the field of Geophysics, I had visited The Grand Tetons, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, Antarctica, Chile and spent weeks aboard a ship in the Pacific Ocean, all in the name of research. My career now, however, is focused on administering an undergraduate program, advising and teaching students. I was led in this direction by my love for teaching and my desire to help students get the most out of college. I am greatly indebted to my advisers who opened doors to the worlds of geophysics and research for me. I try to open those doors for students here at Penn in their fields of interest.
AG: My interest in environmental history and its intersection with economics got me interested in sustainability as an issue. And because my research was about energy history it got me thinking about what kinds of energy use were sustainable or not. My upbringing in a rural area as part of a farm family and business gave me a perspective that led rather naturally to thinking about environmental sustainability once I understood it conceptually.
JD: Growing up in Southern California and spending most of my time outdoors and then studying Geophysics in college and grad school, I have long had a strong interest in the environment, but in my time teaching at Penn it has been the students who have really sparked my interest in environmental sustainability. Led by student interest, I've mentored seniors on a number of sustainability-related senior thesis topics ranging from designing a climate change curriculum for middle school students, mapping plastics in the Atlantic, quantifying the urban agricultural potential of Philadelphia with remote sensing, and mapping invasive species in the Wissahickon Valley.
AG: No, though I have long been interested in matters of consumption, especially energy consumption and talked about that in my courses. I was hesitant at first about sustainability because it seemed like a trendy slogan. So I approached the topic with skepticism, and also was hesitant because I don't have the technical expertise in matters like climate change. However, my students' clear interest in it has led me to take it seriously, and I began doing some reading, and now am working on incorporating it into all my courses.
JD: No, not always. I taught my first college class in 2000 at a community college in Glendale, California, while I was still in grad school, and I stuck pretty strictly to the subject matters of earth science and oceanography without diving into their relevance to sustainability too much. I think I was afraid to discuss the economic, political, or social aspects of an issue like climate change, since these weren't my fields of expertise. It wasn't until a couple of years ago, encouraged by Penn students, that I started introducing more issues associated with sustainability into my courses.
JD: Asking more discussion questions and allowing discussion to take place. As someone trained in the sciences, this didn't come naturally to me, but I've learned bit by bit. For example, in my Oceanography course I have incorporated more questions in my course assignments in which I have the students read about a particular issue and then discuss the pros and cons of something like possible adaptations to climate change, tidal vs. wave power plants, hard stabilization, etc.
AG: I use broad concepts in my courses that relate to sustainability: mobility, production and consumption, energy systems, property, political systems. I push students to analyze what "sustainability" means in specific historical settings, rather than using it as a broad "buzz word" without analytical meaning. Wendell Wilkie once said that something to the effect that one buzz word can destroy analysis for fifty years; I try not to let my students just say "sustainability" without explaining what sustainability might look like in real places with real people, starting with the natural and human-built environment and working up from there.
AG: For me it began in a one of the Center for Teaching and Learning's regular lunchtime discussions of curriculum and teaching matters. This one was focused on teaching sustainability. Based on conversations stemming from that meeting, Dan Garofalo proposed sending Jane and me to a workshop on integrating sustainability into college curriculum last summer, in San Diego, run by AASHE, the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education. At the end of that workshop Jane and I proposed that we offer a one-day workshop for faculty here at Penn modeled on the one in San Diego.
JD: Our objectives for the ISAC workshop were to facilitate Penn faculty creating new courses or revising existing courses such that the courses encourage students to explore sustainability as it relates to the subject matter. For the workshop, we're defining sustainability as a framework for thinking and problem-solving. There are issues within all academic disciplines that can be explored through the lens of sustainability, considering the "triple bottom line" or "three pillars" (society, economy and environment). We hope faculty will design new components of their courses that will get students thinking about the social, economic and environmental aspects of a number of different topics and encouraging students to consider all of these when problem solving.
AG: We were pleased that faculty responded from a variety of departments and schools (Chemistry, History, Earth and Environmental Science, Annenberg, Education, German, Economics, Design, Urban Studies) who were teaching many different kinds of courses, from large lecture/recitation courses with hundreds of students to small seminars and everything in between. I think that sustainability is a conceptual framework that needs to be incorporated into all kinds of courses that reach all kinds of students.
AG: I hope they gain new research skills in the various disciplines, and additional appreciation for how disciplines differ. I also hope they gain experience in how to match content and materials with specific audiences. There are lots of different ways to talk about sustainability, and its important to figure out what will work with different kinds of audiences in a variety of settings. I hope they come away from their internships with some knowledge and skill about doing that. There is that old saying that if you want to really learn something, try to teach it to someone else--I think they will learn a lot about both sustainability and the challenges of teaching.
JD: I suppose I have three primary objectives for them. I hope that they learn something about researching the subject matter in the courses and working with a faculty member to do this research. I hope they become more knowledgeable about sustainability and how the subjects in their courses relate to sustainability. And lastly, I hope they develop an appreciation for the amount of preparation that goes into teaching a good class!
AG: We certainly hope that it can be!
JD: Yes, we hope to make it an annual event.
Each issue, we recognize a member of the Penn community for his or her environmental sustainability efforts on campus. If you know someone at Penn who is "leading the green," let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org .