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New teaching Wasatch Experience workshop for faculty and doctoral teaching assistants provides tools for incorporating sustainability into the curriculum.

By Shaun Daniel, Global Change and Sustainability Center research associate

Looking for ways to integrate sustainability into your classroom? Learn from those who already have. The Wasatch Experience, initiated in 2014 to provide support to University of Utah faculty interested in incorporating sustainability themes into their courses, is a great way to do just that.

“After participating in The Wasatch Experience workshop, I was able to incorporate sustainability as both a major theoretical and practical element of the course itself,” said Shannon Jones, an instructor in the Division of Nutrition, who participated in the inaugural round. “Many of the resources and readings that were provided during the workshop allowed me to expand my conception of how and when sustainability could be directly connected to other subject matter that I had not previously thought of as related.”

wasatchexp2_web1Following a successful first year, The Wasatch Experience is now accepting applications from faculty and doctoral student teaching assistants for its next round of workshops to be held in August.

New this year, thanks to a grant from the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, The Wasatch Experience is engaging doctoral student teaching assistants and providing a separate half-day workshop to support the needs of these new instructors just starting their career in teaching.

“Opening The Wasatch Experience to doctoral students who serve as teaching assistants is a fabulous idea,” said Chris Zajchowski, a doctoral student in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. “This experience will allow us to explore ways to improve our practice as aspiring sustainability educators and refine our teaching methods to best engage students to tackle the pressing social and environmental challenges we face.”

Meaghan McKasy, a doctoral student studying communication, is planning to apply to this year’s program.

“Through my experience with the Global Change and Sustainability Center, I have come to realize the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to complex issues such as sustainability,” McKasy said. “Participating in The Wasatch Experience would be an incredible opportunity to connect, network and learn from individuals in numerous departments on campus in order to come away with new and innovative ways to incorporate sustainability in the educational process.”

Faculty and doctoral student teaching assistants interested in the program may download an application from the Sustainability Office’s website. The deadline for applications is Friday, April 22.

The first year of The Wasatch Experience involved 16 faculty members from departments including biology, economics, mechanical engineering, nutrition, ethnic studies, film, materials science, theater, anthropology and social work.

As with the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability, diversity is a strength of the program and is intentionally fostered in recognition of the complexity inherent in sustainability.

“Every discipline has a different piece of sustainability, and integration is necessary,” said Adrienne Cachelin, director of sustainability education and co-creator of The Wasatch Experience.

“The fact that the workshop involved people from a wide range of disciplines allowed me to see ways in which sustainability could be taught in courses that would not have struck me as closely related to sustainability, and that helped me to see new ways in which I could use sustainability as a framing device for units in my own course,” said Jason Wyckoff, an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and a participant in the 2014-15 Wasatch Experience.

During the two-day workshop in the summer of 2014, participants learned about different approaches and challenges to teaching sustainability, as well as on- and off-campus opportunities. Over the rest of the 2014-15 academic year, participants continued to meet to share ideas, to create new learning activities and to modify courses to incorporate sustainability into the curriculum. An impact summary of the 2014-15 Wasatch Experience is available online.

The workshop participants worked with mentors in interdisciplinary teams to integrate the “big ideas in sustainability” – such as systems thinking, justice and life-cycle analysis – into their courses in some unique and powerful ways.

For example, in a course on materials science, assistant professor Taylor Sparks had students disassemble old appliances to explore themes of design, recyclability, waste, value and production. In ethnic studies, instructor Elizabeth Archuleta assigned systems mapping to explore how indigenous women have sustained culture and community within ecological limits over time. And, in political science, assistant professor Tabitha Benney devoted the final module of an international relations course to issues with a global sustainability frame.

“Because of the partnerships and collaborations developed in The Wasatch Experience, I not only feel connected to and supported by a broader network of sustainably minded faculty at the university, but also have developed collaborative partnerships in teaching and research as a result of the workshop,” said Brian Codding, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology.

The Wasatch Experience is a program that elevates and strengthens sustainability teaching at the University of Utah. Experience how it can benefit you and your students. The deadline for applications is April 22.

Shaun Daniel is a graduate of the Environmental Humanities Program (M.S., 2015) and a research associate with the GCSC and ENVST, where his work is focused on sustainability education, research and expanding global learning.