By Cynthia Rutz, Director, Valparaiso Institute for Teaching and Learning (VITAL)

 

Would you like to see VU become more sustainable? Then read on to learn about some green initiatives on campus. Alberto López Martín (WLC), VU’s first Faculty Development Fellow, has spent the last year working on eco-pedagogy with a faculty learning community co-led by Giosuè Alagna.  Alberto and Danielle Orozco-Nunnelly (Biology) told me what this group has been doing.  Then Julie Whitaker, VU’s Energy and Sustainability Coordinator, talks about the many green projects she has on campus, including a waste audit, campus community garden, and Earth Day events. 

 

Alberto López Martín: Why Eco-Pedagogy?

What is eco-pedagogy? Alberto explains that it is a relatively young field that has become prominent due to the immense ecological challenges we are facing. Educators who follow this approach ask themselves what skills students will require to thrive in a shifting and endangered world. How can we develop new, more sustainable ways to inhabit the planet?

Some of the most common principles and goals of eco-pedagogy are: 

  • Raising awareness of the interconnectedness and interdependence between humans and nonhumans
  • Fostering creativity and systems-thinking to try to solve environmental issues
  • Helping students connect with their surroundings by using nature and place-based learning
  • Learning about non-Western sustainable knowledge and practices 
  • Raising ecological awareness from a position of hope and understanding, not despair 

Alberto’s interest in environmental issues goes back to his doctoral years when he was a student of the poet and ecological activist Juan Carlos Galeano.  There he studied ecocriticism, which analyzes how the natural world is represented in art, literature, and other cultural manifestations.  

In his Spanish classes, Alberto uses images, videos, and  texts  that not only foster a better relationship between us and our environment, but that also include perspectives that try to give voice to nonhuman Others. For example, he has his students read various opinions about bullfighting–including poems that defend and poems that question the practice–to ultimately reflect on animal cruelty and its role in shaping the Spanish national identity and economy. In his “Spanish for Business” class, his students read and discuss texts that question the typical economic model of endless growth and expansion, given our planet’s finite resources.  

Alberto hopes that the Faculty Learning Community he co-led this year with Giosuè Alagna will contribute to the ongoing green shift in VU’s curriculum, providing faculty from different disciplines with yet another opportunity to find principles and eco-pedagogies that they can apply to their courses. The FLC chose an overall theme of plastic pollution and then smaller groups have been creating classroom activities related to that theme, which they will share with the campus at the end of the semester.

 

Danielle Orozco-Nunnelly: Interdisciplinary Eco-Pedagogy

Danielle joined the eco-pedagogy FLC because her biology class “Diversity of Life” addresses human-driven global change and conservation biology. Although her students read about and discuss these issues theoretically, she wanted to participate in coming up with some hands-on activities that would encourage her students to think more deeply about sustainable living.

She was pleased at how interdisciplinary the group was and with the unique perspectives that were brought to the table. They began by reading the first chapter of EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet by Eric Assadourian. This piece challenged the group to consider including sustainability or environmental justice in their courses and presented some practical ways to do this.

In the second semester, the group split into teams. Each team was charged with creating a classroom activity on the topic of plastic pollution. The activity of Danielle’s group involves students first learning about plastic pollution, then taking on different roles of those affected by it (including non-human roles such as a rock, a bird, or Lake Michigan), doing research on their specific roles, and then participating in a summit to share those different perspectives. For the final part of the activity, students are supposed to create a public artifact, such as a presentation, bulletin, performance, or art installation.

Danielle wanted to close by encouraging faculty to attend the FLC’s April 29 workshop. (See the flier in this issue.) She went on to describe the three main presentations:

  1. The main speaker, Laurie Eberhardt (Biology), has done a lot of work with her students on understanding the impact of microplastic pollution on the behavior of aquatic organisms, especially mollusks. Laurie’s talk will focus on teaching hope and showing students what can be done about these issues rather than just despairing about the current state of the planet.
  2. The second speaker is a local farmer, Dan Perkins, who runs Perkins’ Good Earth Farm,  an organic vegetable farm, CSA, and Airbnb near DeMotte. Dan will talk about sustainable farming as well as sustainable eating practices.
  3. Finally, all four of the FLC teams will report on their eco-pedagogy projects, giving faculty some ideas on how to incorporate environmental issues in the classroom. The workshop will end with an audience-driven Q&A session.

 

Julie Whitaker, VU’s Energy & Sustainability Coordinator

Julie Whitaker began her work on sustainability at VU four years ago.  Before that she was the first hire for Indiana State University’s office of sustainability as a student intern.  She is thrilled to be doing this work because she has a passion for environmental stewardship.  

She spent her first two years at VU doing an energy audit of every building on campus. Then she used that data to implement such conservation measures as installing LED lighting and occupancy sensors, and improving building control operations. 

Julie’s office has a number of exciting initiatives such as:

Her door is always open and she would love to work with faculty on incorporating green projects in their classes or department. For example, she was contacted by Julie Peller, who wanted to help reduce plastic waste on campus. So she worked with Julie and two student interns to start a waste audit of the campus that will include 22 buildings. The student interns are paid by Porter County Waste Reduction. They will use the audit results to educate the community on how to reduce plastic waste. 

Julie is currently finalizing plans for Earth Day (April 22).  Events will include:

  • A month-long campus conservation competition in the dorms to save energy
  • A plastic bag drop off at the student mail center (bags will be made into benches)
  • A talk by a Parkhurst Dining nutritionist on the benefits of a plant-based diet
  • A presentation on how to recycle
  • Student interns presenting on their waste audit and plastic initiatives
  • Community Garden Tours

Her green dreams for campus include a campus-wide commitment to lowering carbon emissions.  Many schools have already done this. In fact, VU recently became a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability In Higher Education (AASHE). One advantage of this membership is having access to the campus sustainability hub, which has several resources for sustainability in higher education. Over 1,000 universities are members. 

 

SAVE THE DATE FOR THESE THREE GREEN CAMPUS EVENTS:

  1.  Earth Day. Friday, April 22. 
  2.  Teaching Resilience and Sustainability: An Interdisciplinary Eco-pedagogy Workshop.  Friday, April 29, 4;00-6:00 p.m. (For details, see the flier in this issue of Teaching Tip Tuesday.)
  3.  All Faculty Workshop on the Green Campus. Monday, May 16, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. (See upcoming emails from the provost’s office for more details.)