Sustainability Education

I love teaching others about sustainability, and I am fascinated by research on the best practices for impactful, inclusive teaching. Several of my projects to-date have examined sustainability education and the process of educating future global citizens and sustainability changes agents. For more information on my own teaching, see my teaching and outreach page.

Global Service-Learning

This was the first project I conceptualized, scoped, and executed as the lead investigator. It's a project close to my heart, in part because of the backstory:

During my undergraduate career at Purdue, I worked with a service-learning course called "Water Supply in Developing Countries," which focused primarily on community-scale water supply in the rural Dominican Republic. The project originated from a collaboration between Rotary International and Purdue University, connecting the course advisors with a local Rotary Club in Santiago de los Caballeros and schools in several nearby rural communities. Over the course of my three-year involvement with the project, we designed and built systems at three schools (and a fourth system which I helped design was deployed soon after I left the project). Towards the end of my tenure with the project, I began to wonder whether we were approaching the project the right way. Despite years of effort, a number of weeks spent in-country working with local folks to build and maintain the systems, and considerable financial investment from Purdue and Rotary International, the project was, at best, a partial success. In each school, a solar energy system was making access to electricity more reliable and more climate-friendly - an unqualified success. However, only two of the schools used the water system everyday, and none of them shared water with the broader community - what happened to our visions of a community-scale water system? I began to wonder - where did we go wrong?

In spring 2017, I went to a couple friends and colleagues with this question, and I proposed to go hunting in the literature for our first clues at answers. We quickly figured out that there wasn't much there - there was no guidebook (though in 2018, Hartman et al. would publish just such a book). We started out searching for best practices in this loosely defined field of global service-learning, but we decided that the field was too vague and terms used too inconsistently to get us where we wanted to go. Instead, I devised a systematic review strategy that would integrate the different dimensions of global service-learning: international development and service-learning. It took four years, but we eventually executed a systematic review and synthesis of best practices in both fields, developing a set of guiding principles for global service-learning that were positioned to complement Hartman et al.'s extensive assessment of their own experience and of the global service-learning literature.

Right: Solar panels and water treatment systems installed at three rural schools near Santiago de los Caballeros, DR.

Sustainability Competencies

Sustainability has taken the world by storm. Every Fortune 500 company, major city, even the corner stores are hiring sustainability coordinators and consultants. Someone has to fill those jobs, and those people need specific skillsets - a combination of leadership, disciplinary acumen, and skill at cutting across complex, controversial topics. How do you teach people to do that? That's the big challenge facing sustainability graduate programs today - how do you educate a new and rapidly growing field of sustainability professionals? In other words, what core competencies should a graduate degree in sustainability cover, and how do you convey those?

One of the first steps in developing these novel curricula is to assess what is being taught in existing programs. I have worked as part of a small team to develop a novel system for assessing sustainability curricula using course descriptions. Using qualitative analysis of course descriptions, we can roughly map the current competencies covered in a graduate program. While this is a highly exploratory method, it highlights possible gaps that program designers can look into with more detail. Beginning with the masters program at my own School for the Environment and Sustainability, we have attempted to map the overall curriculum while also looking for specific features of interest, such as courses which develop climate change leaders.

Killion, A. K., Ostrow Michel, J., & Hawes, J. K. (2022). Toward Identifying Sustainability Leadership Competencies: Insights from Mapping a Graduate Sustainability Education Curriculum. Sustainability, 14(10), 5811.