Sustainability in the Classroom

Thursday, April 8, 2021
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One of the student group’s poster from Quality of Environment.
One of the student group’s poster from Quality of Environment.

Dr. Katherine Nashleanas is a lecturer for the school of Global Integrative Studies and teaches a variety of classes including Quality of the Environment, Human Geography, Economic Geography, and the Geography of the United States. Last semester, Dr. Nashleanas developed a special poster activity for her students to apply their knowledge of  sustainability and contribute to the UNL community. Read more about Dr. Nashleanas and her students’ contribution below.

How would you define sustainability?

I like the definition presented by Gro Bruntland, in which sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.  Because the course is called Quality of the Environment, we incorporate economic, social, as well as environmental perspectives as we investigate sustainability throughout the semester.

Why do you teach sustainability in your classroom?

We are a part of the environment, our lives depend on our relationship with the environment and, as the environment changes, so will our social, economic, political, and cultural systems.  We need to be aware of the changes that are occurring and understand why they are happening – this helps us build a level of resilience to deal with the changes in ways that are not as disruptive or stressful in our lives, and we can be empowered to adapt.

How your does your class, Quality of Environment, relate to sustainability?

My course centers on sustainability from the microscopic to the macroscopic; we cover the dynamics of the Earth’s biogeochemical cycles and move up through the environment until at the end of the course we are talking about climate change.  Because climate change is so complex, we need to look at all of the various dynamics that contribute to our climate.  Besides our textbook, we read a book called The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans.  Now, students might think this could be a doom and gloom subject, but we really talk about how the environment is supposed to work, what we have been doing that has disturbed or distressed those processes, and what we can do to bring the environment back into balance.  It is really empowering.

What do you want your students to take away from the class?

Change is happening and may even affect what jobs will be available when students graduate.  This is a forward-looking class and knowledge is power.  I would like students to walk away from this class more fully ready to engage meaningfully in their future knowing they can make positive changes in the world.

How was the project developed? Or what was the idea/purpose behind the project?

I wanted to design an active, experiential project where students were taking what they were learning in class and actually applying it in a way that contributed to the UNL Community.  The Chancellor’s Master Plan on Sustainability and Resilience was coming out and I wanted our projects to be a part of that. Therefore student teams developed their own topics and created a series of posters on sustainability then hung them up around campus.  What is unique about these posters is that each one has a QR Code embedded in it. Each team developed an additional creative project that expands on their team topic – whether they developed a website, a social media platform, a blog, or some other form of media so when students, faculty, or staff scan the QR Code with their phones, they can see the really cool projects each team came up with.

How does your class project impact the rest of the UNL Campus?

UNL has been doing a lot when it comes to sustainability and as a result of the efforts of the Office of Sustainability, UNL now has a STARS rating of Silver on the AASHE Report – which is really good.  We wanted the UNL Campus Community to know some of the things UNL is already doing as well as things that are up and coming, or issues that still need to be addressed either on campus or in the wider community in which we all live. We want to be a positive addition to the ongoing campus sustainability dialog.

A final message from Dr. Nashleanas  

In a course that covers the environment and environmental change, it would be really easy to assume human beings are “the problem” but the good news is, we are actually part of the solution.  We are learning so much that improves what we know about the environment and there are so many wonderful ways we can use the technology and systems we already have if we only start thinking smarter.  Solutions are right at our fingertips and this is a very exciting time to be involved.