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Sustainability Teamwork

14 Jun Posted by in Academics | Comments Off on Sustainability Teamwork

Like many universities, Mason likes to brag about its interdisciplinarity, and we add in our pride about entrepreneurial responsiveness. Sometimes we probably over claim: we certainly have occasions when unit blinders or administrative hurdles inhibit collaborations across disciplines, and once in a while we’re not as quick on our feet as we should be. But we do, definitely, have success stories.

Two years ago, almost to the day, then-Vice President Larry Czarda mentioned to me his concern that we had a variety of environmentally relevant programs all over the place, but no coherence and no mapping. I agreed, with one of those private reactions about regretting I hadn’t realized this myself. We clearly needed better communication to students about what we were doing, and we needed to see as well if we could take fuller advantage of our strengths.

With this as the charge, I asked Sharon deMontsabert, from Civil and Environmental Engineering, to take responsibility for pulling us out of the hole. She set up an inter-unit advisory group, and with this guidance and support, and her own energy, improvements developed quickly. We also benefited greatly from parallel efforts to improve sustainability and campus awareness on the facilities side, headed by Lenna Storm. A census of existing courses was already a gain; this led of course to the explicit website and links. A new sustainability minor was established fairly quickly, with offerings from several units. This year, we submitted two new majors, in environmental studies and in sustainability, to the State Council, and these were approved last month. We’re good to go, along with the continued inter-unit coordination of a faculty advisory group and some gentle guidance from a Provost Faculty Fellow (still to be named, succeeding Sharon).

We do have real faculty and program resources — not only in Environmental Science and Policy, but also in the climate and geospatial research in the College of Science, in New Century College and its conservation studies effort, in other policy units, in the interest in environmental communications, even in conflict analysis. We may still need a couple of courses — I continue to believe that students interested in sustainability need a sober course in environmental politics. But we have moved considerably from energetic incoherence to real focus, and I expect real student interest will respond. It’s solid evidence that our self-perception is not entirely askew.