Common Course Fosters Interdisciplinary Approach to Sustainability
Common Course Fosters Interdisciplinary Approach to Sustainability

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs

This fall, UNH launched its first-ever common course, “Sustainability and Ideas for the Future.” Using an interdisciplinary approach, the course is designed to connect students across majors by exploring sustainability as it pertains to the environment, ideas and practices.

Members of the Class of 2017 and the 19 faculty members teaching the course have begun examining questions such as: Can we meet the challenge of feeding nine billion people? Is the city sustainable?  If our energy source is not sustainable after a certain point in time, what new ideas can we come up with?

During move-in weekend, members of the UNH Green Team helped students recycle. Sustainability is the theme of UNH's first-ever common course for first-year students.

Todd Jokl, director of the common course and associate professor of art and design, noted that having a common course or intellectual experience with this kind of cluster approach and wide-ranging faculty support is unusual.

“This initiative speaks volumes about how UNH wants to ensure students have valuable interactions with the full-time faculty and an outstanding academic experience from their first day of college,” he said.

The course came about after President Steve Kaplan challenged the faculty to think about how they could create a common educational experience at UNH. College of Arts and Sciences Dean Lourdes Alvarez initiated a faculty task force to propose creative approaches to the president’s challenge and shape the course.

“We have a tremendous opportunity here at UNH to do very exciting things with strong support from the administration,” said Alvarez. “These are some of the pressing questions of our time, and in this course our students and faculty will have the chance to explore them together.”

Students in the course chose from three sections or clusters:  the Future of the American City, the Future of Energy or the Future of Food. Each cluster deals with interdisciplinary issues by having professors from different departments focus on common sustainability problems.

“The energy section for example combines an historian, an engineer, a biologist, a STEM educator (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and a political scientist/national security specialist,” said Edmund Todd, associate professor of history.

Charlie Boynton, an associate professor of finance, said the course will likely have far-reaching effects. “My primary hope for the course is to spur critical thinking for the first-year students,” he said. “If we are successful here there is a natural multiplier effect and students will be more likely to be successful in their subsequent classes and careers.”

As part of the course, Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit environmental justice solutions organization in New York City, will present “Home(town) Security” on Monday, Sept. 16, in the Beckerman Recreation Center at 5 p.m. All members of the campus community are invited to the talk. A 2008 New York Times profile called Carter “the Green Power Broker.” An urban revitalization strategist and eco-entrepreneur, she focuses on the issues of sustainability and revitalization as they relate to equality, primarily in urban environments.

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