Dec. 6, 2007
By Mary Reed | Photo by Rick Fatica
It's below freezing and overcast on this dreary December day. But the professors enrolled in the Kanawha Project, a new Ohio University faculty learning community focusing on the environment, are undaunted as they traverse The Ridges for a lesson on trees and shrubs.
Named for the physiographic region in which Athens lies, the project is designed to teach undergraduates about sustainability throughout their coursework by training faculty to incorporate related concepts in their curricula.
Fred Toner, associate professor of French and chair of the Department of Modern Languages, stands, hands in pockets, while Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology Brian McCarthy explains how to identify trees and shrubs and shares their historical uses and importance to the economy.
"I heard about this project and thought, 'What a wonderful idea,'" says Toner, who, like his cohorts in the pilot project, was selected specifically because he is not in an environmental field. The matchup isn't as strange as it might seem.
"It's really a perfect fit for language," Toner says of the environment. "It's a motivating topic for students. If you teach language, you teach content. To go to France and to be able to interact with French speakers, you would have to know about the environment."
A survey last year of more than 700 Ohio University undergraduates showed that most believe they have a personal responsibility to help improve the environment. The same survey, however, indicated students lack a solid understanding of major ecological concepts.
"The survey was one of the rationales for the project," says Michele Morrone, director of the Environmental Studies Program, who with Associate Professor of Political Science Nancy Manring co-wrote the successful 1804 grant request that supports the Kanawha Project. The $15,000 grant allowed for modest faculty stipends, books and this week's workshop.
"We're really going after faculty who teach undergraduate courses and have the potential to reach a lot of undergraduates," Morrone says. A faculty environmental learning community, she adds, is a much more efficient way to enhance the curriculum than a curricular overhaul or new department or major.
The 20 professors selected for the Kanawha Project (more than 50 applied) will meet monthly throughout the rest of the school year to discuss their readings (the books "Sustainability on Campus: Stories and Strategies for Change" and "Principles of Sustainability") and brainstorm how they will incorporate this new content into their courses. Each is required to submit a revised syllabus for a 2008-09 course.
Jane Sojka, the university's Robert H. Freeman Professor of Marketing, plans to introduce sustainability concepts into her Consumer Behavior Marketing class. "I had read a newspaper article about compact fluorescent lightbulbs, which to my understanding could really cut down on the depletion of the ozone layer," she says. "But the United States is the industrialized nation that uses them least. I thought 'This is a consumer behavior problem.' How do you we get people to buy them?"
Aileen Hall, assistant professor of sociology, wants to "green up" her Animals in Human Society course. "Animals are being impacted by the actions of humans in terms of how we've treated the environment, and I wanted to alter the course to reflect that," she says. She is looking forward to spending the next year learning about sustainability with her new colleagues. "I hope to pick their brains."
Funding permitting, Manring -- also a member of the interdisciplinary Environment Studies Program's faculty -- would like to see the Kanawha Project match Emory University's Piedmont Project, which has trained 85 percent of its faculty in sustainability and environmental curriculum development.
"Some of the people in this group have talked about going back to their departments and training people," says Manring, who is keen on this "train the trainers" approach. "It's a sustainability model."
Ohio University's Center for Teaching and Learning soon plans to issue a call for proposals for additional faculty learning communities to be initiated yet this academic year. Inquiries may be directed to Laurie Hatch, director of the center, at 740-597-2700 and firstname.lastname@example.org.