Curriculum

The University of Nevada, Reno places high value on imparting the necessary knowledge, understanding and skills to its graduates who will go on to shape the future. The students of tomorrow will meet these challenges and address issues of sustainability with the heightened awareness that comes through education. In order to fulfill this mission, universities must address the challenge of teaching students in a changing world and by providing faculty with the support necessary to keep instructional content and methods current and relevant.

The University has a long-standing and successful general education program, the Core Curriculum. This is the basis of interdisciplinary undergraduate education, and could be one vehicle for integrating sustainability topics into the program of study of all of our students. The core curriculum requirements expose students to a broad range of fundamental principles including math, writing, humanities, natural science and social science

In terms of specific skills in topics directly related to sustainability issues, the University has several degree programs including: ecohydrology, environmental engineering, environmental and resource economics, environmental science, environmental studies, wildlife ecology and conservation, ecology, evolution and conservation biology, literature and environment, hydrologic sciences and interactive environmental journalism.

Many campus departments support faculty who integrate sustainability themes in their courses. Literature and environment faculty in the English department frequently teach sustainability-related undergraduate courses, as do faculty in political science, history, biology, geography, environmental chemistry and many other departments and colleges. There is tremendous potential to leverage the energy and intellect of these teachers to expand knowledge and understanding of sustainability principles among all faculty members.

To be effective long-term, the curriculum must help students to understand how information is acquired, assessed, and applied to make decisions that lead to meaningful action. A curriculum that prepares students, no matter what their field of choice, to deal effectively with the contingencies of the modern day world allows students to be effective as participants in the creation and maintenance of sensible and sustainable approaches to living.

Teaching Faculty Survey

A survey of academic faculty involved in undergraduate teaching was conducted in February 2009. This survey excluded administrative faculty involved in undergraduate teaching. 1,433 surveys were distributed and 223 responses were received, a 15 percent response rate. This survey?s aim was to collect some baseline data by gauging the perspective of faculty in three main areas: faculty?s intrinsic motivation related to sustainability in education, i.e., the relevance of sustainability for themselves, and their interest in teaching sustainability; faculty?s practice, i.e., whether they were addressing sustainability issues in their teaching; and faculty?s concerns, i.e., the obstacles they saw for increasing focus on sustainability in teaching, and their perception of students? priorities.

Key Findings

65 percent of respondents rated their concern about sustainability as high or very high. The high level of personal concern among faculty is contrasted by their perception of the concern of students about sustainability: nearly 50 percent perceived students as moderately concerned.

45 percent of respondents reported that they integrated sustainability issues explicitly in courses they were teaching.

Future Goals

Incorporate Sustainability into Strategic Planning Process
Broaden the current institutional strategic planning on sustainability in order to emphasize the relevance of sustainability to all disciplines, and to accentuate the importance of integration and interdisciplinary work in promoting sustainability.

Provide Information on Sustainability
Provide sustainability information to all new students and purposefully direct new students to the information and opportunities they could include in their sustainability efforts.

Address Sustainability in the Core Curriculum
Extend or create new core curriculum courses that explicitly address sustainability; identify core curriculum courses that relate to sustainability issues and add a core sustainability requirement in order to ensure that all students are exposed to sustainability issues throughout their undergraduate education.

Facilitate Faculty Engagement
Encourage faculty through clear statements, strategies and policies, to include, where appropriate, sustainability components into courses, particularly new courses. Provide training and incentives to those willing to engage in this effort.

Devise New Approaches to Sustainability Teaching
Promote the development of new approaches to the teaching of sustainability issues that fully account for its complexity and integrate, where necessary, science, economics, law, policy, social science, and other fields, into inventive forms of teaching across traditional department and disciplinary boundaries.
Encourage Sustainability Research
Encourage faculty to focus research on sustainability issues, including but not limited to alternative energy; water issues; improved resource management; production processes; scientific support for decision and policy making; societal issues that impact sustainability; economic principles that promote sustainability; sustainability in art, literature, philosophy, media; and other discipline-specific approaches.

Recognizing and Rewarding Sustainability Innovations
Offer meaningful support for student- and faculty-led sustainability efforts and innovations by rewarding faculty efforts in this area in the merit and tenure process.

Consider a Focus on Sustainability in Hiring of New Faculty
When possible, hire new faculty who include sustainability in their research and teaching, and use integrated, cross-disciplinary approaches.

Coordinate Efforts with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Coordinate sustainability efforts with UNLV. Consider co-hosting, in alternate years, annual sustainability workshops for faculty, staff and community members.

Download the full Campus Sustainability Report [PDF]