Text by Paul Tumarkin, Tech Launch Arizona
Project Sage Special Report: Sustainability in the Classroom
Student and faculty interest in sustainability courses is growing, helping to make the UA a hotbed for study and implementation.
Student and faculty interest in sustainability courses is growing, helping to make the University of Arizona a hotbed for study and implementation.
The UA, which currently offers more than 160 courses with a focus on sustainability, has experienced a recent surge in interest in the topic.
Student numbers have increased four-fold in the past two years in Soil, Water and Environmental Science 210, an introductory level course on sustainability, said Allan Matthias, UA associate professor and SWES 210 class instructor.
"The first year we taught it, spring 2008, we had 25 students or so, and now it is up to 100," Matthias said.
"The number of people who are majoring in environmental science has really steadily increased over the last couple of years," he said.
"I think there is a lot of interest in the environment, and in sustainability. In terms of our majors, the number of students who are in environmental science has really steadily increased over the last couple of years," Matthias said.
"Course offerings and the number of courses that have some component of sustainability, with a shift of focus toward sustainability, is growing," said Kevin Bonine, UA adjunct assistant professor in ecology and environmental biology and adjunct assistant professor in the school of natural resources and the environment.
"It's driven by student interest, and faculty interests are changing, with new faculty hires with a focus on sustainability," Bonine said.
UA's efforts to grow sustainability, both in the classroom and around campus, were recognized by the National Wildlife Federation in a nationwide campus ecology report, said Joe Abraham, campus sustainability coordinator.
The study looked at 1,068 campuses across the nation, representing 27 percent of all colleges and universities. Of that number, 334 were recognized for exemplary programs or having a strong commitment to do more in the area of sustainability.
UA received "exemplary" ratings from NWF in seven areas: environmental or sustainability goal setting; interdisciplinary degrees; energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy; on-campus clean energy sources and cogeneration; transportation programs; plans to do more with transportation programs; and recycling, solid waste and materials flow.
"They gave us a good grade," Abraham said. "It's all across campus. It's a strategic University-wide project.
"I think students are more enthused about sustainability. ASUA has a number of clubs, like Students for Sustainability, that work on some project here, and we have seen significant growth between last year and this year," Abraham said. "There are internships, offering one or two credits, and we have about 60 interns now. There has been exponential growth in that area, which show there is a lot of desire for this. The students actually want these types of opportunities."
Such student interest in sustainability has seen the addition of new UA courses in recent years, Matthias said.
"One of the best examples I can cite is Dr. Jim Riley's water harvesting class (Soil, Water and Environmental Science 454)," Matthias said. "That's a class that was developed by students: they were the ones who actually said they wanted that type of class, and so it was developed in response to that need."
Support for sustainability courses comes from the top.
"At the higher levels of the University, I think they are making an effort to support education, particularly in the area of the environment. I think there is much more awareness of the importance of sustainability," Matthias said. "It is my understanding that the president of the University and other people who work with him put a priority on the environment, and I think that is one of the strengths of the University."
Sustainable education and projects benefit not only the UA community, but the surrounding area, said Grant McCormick, UA campus planner.
"The intention is that the university and the projects done on campus will serve as demonstrations, for the larger community," McCormick said. "The hope is that it helps the campus itself, gives hands-on experience for the students, but is also a demonstration for the larger community that often looks to the university for guidance on these sorts of things."