10 YEARS OF SUSTAINABILITY

Originally posted in @theU on Sept. 22, 2017.

By Amy Brunvand, Sustainability Librarian.

The University of Utah Sustainability Office turns 10 years old this year, and it is truly amazing to look around campus and realize how much has changed for the better in the past decade. Nowadays, there are campus vegetable gardens with ripe tomatoes and hives of buzzing bees, solar parking canopies that provide both power and shade, electric vehicles plugged into charging stations, crowds of students arriving on TRAX light-rail trains, tasty vegetarian and vegan options on offer at the cafeteria, water bottle refilling stations in most buildings, and plenty of recycling bins to divert waste from the landfill.

The curriculum has changed, too. Undergraduates can earn a number of sustainability-focused degrees and minors, while graduate students in any field can add an Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability to their credentials.

Over the years, students, staff and faculty have all contributed to a vision of making the University of Utah a better place. In September, the Sustainability Office will celebrate these milestones and achievements with a Sustainability Showcase highlighting current programs and resources, and a special presentation by Dr. Vandana Shiva who advocates for traditional agriculture, and environmental and social justice issues worldwide.

Join us at the Sustainability Showcase on Friday, Sept. 29, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on the Marriott Library Plaza for food, live music and fun activities. Later this fall, Dr. Vandana Shiva will present a public lecture at Libby Gardner Concert Hall on Saturday, Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m., as part of UtahPresents 2017-18 season. Tickets are available now.

1991-2006: Early Beginnings of Sustainability

Ten years ago, the transition to campus sustainability had barely begun, although a few major milestones laid the foundation. The first big sustainable change was a side effect of trying to cope with limited parking; in 1991, Commuter Services launched the Ed Pass program to give a UTA transit pass to every student and employee on campus. Not only did this encourage people to leave their cars at home, it helped expand Salt Lake City’s light rail network when enthusiastic transit riders from the U showed up at City Council meetings to press for construction of the Red Line TRAX, which opened in 2001.

In 1996, a biology professor named Fred Montague started an “unofficial” campus vegetable garden to teach students about his ideas for ecological gardening. That unofficial garden became the foundation of today’s Edible Campus Gardens, which teaches volunteers how to grow food, supports organic gardening curriculum and sells produce at the University of Utah Farmers Market. By 2006, the university had also constructed the Spencer F. and Cleone P. Eccles Health Sciences Education Building, the first LEED-certified building which incorporated efficient use of energy and water, waste reduction and consideration of human health in the building’s design, construction, operations and maintenance.

These efforts were significant, but they weren’t yet part of a unified drive to implement sustainability on campus.

2007-2014: The Sustainability Office Forms

Divergent efforts began to coalesce in 2007, with the formation of the Sustainability Office (then called the Sustainability Resource Center), underneath Facilities Management.

Something like the Sustainability Office doesn’t happen without visionaries. The idea was originally proposed by students, but it was City & Metropolitan Planning faculty member Craig B. Forster who led the effort to make the idea work. Forster, who became the first director, was a natural fit with sustainability. He was interested in facilitating interdisciplinary research and bridging the gaps between science and public policy. He also had a talent for bringing people together and was deeply involved with the local community. In the summertime, he was often seen at the Pioneer Park farmers’ market playing cimbalom (a kind of hammered dulcimer) with his Hungarian Táncház band.

With only one full-time staff member and some volunteers, the Sustainability Office got to work organizing recycling at football games, installing the first solar panels on campus, setting up a campus farmers’ market, making sure that sustainability was included in the Campus Master Plan and developing a student fee to support student-led sustainability projects through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. On Earth Day 2008, University of Utah President Michael K. Young signed the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment, dedicating the university to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The year ended in tragedy, though, when Forster died in a hiking accident.

Despite the loss of Forster, the university persevered with a vision for making sustainability integral to its operations. In 2009, after a competitive nationwide search, architect and planner Myron Willson was appointed the next director of the office.

2014-2017: Sustainability is Integrated into Academic Affairs

In 2014, the Sustainability Office made another big change to adapt to the growing campus. Originally, the office was on the organizational chart under Facilities Management with the idea that university employees would take care of recycling, xeriscaping, transit passes and such.

But then an interesting thing happened. Students were getting more and more interested in sustainable change. They wanted to try out their ideas, and the campus was the most natural place for them to do so. With the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) now up and running, grants were available for student-led sustainability projects. The university had become a living laboratory for sustainable change, and sustainability-focused courses had popped up in academic departments all over campus. With so much involvement in interdisciplinary research and learning, the Sustainability Office moved into Academic Affairs, and Associate Vice President for Faculty and law professor Amy Wildermuth was named Chief Sustainability Officer in 2014. Wildermuth added Adrienne Cachelin, Environmental & Sustainability Studies faculty to the team as the director of sustainability education to guide burgeoning sustainability education efforts across campus.

Under Wildermuth, the Sustainability Office also joined forces with the Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC), founded in 2010 by biology professor Jim Ehleringer to foster interdisciplinary sustainability research. Nowadays, under Director Brenda Bowen, Geology & Geophysics faculty, the 129 faculty affiliates of the GCSC represent nine colleges. The center supports graduate students through grants and fellowships, offers an interdisciplinary research seminar series, faculty networking opportunities, assistance for large interdisciplinary grants and core courses in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability curriculum.

Sustainability is You: The Next 10 Years

Today, the Sustainability Office team includes fourteen faculty and staff members as well as numerous student interns and volunteers and continues to expands its scope. Though much progress has been made, sustainability is an ongoing effort, and there is still a lot of work to do.

This year, the Sustainability Office celebrates 10 years of dedicated efforts of faculty, staff and students from across campus. The next 10 years of sustainability at the university will be guided by those in our community who get and remain involved. We invite you to be part of this important work. Join us at one of our fall events to learn about ways you can help make the U a better place for all who live, work and play here.

Crunching Numbers

By Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Steven Burian is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Utah. He is also the Project Director of the USAID funded U.S.-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Water at the University of Utah. His research is focused on the planning and engineering of sustainable and resilient urban water resource systems.

Burian was one of the folks who developed and initiated the Wasatch Experience at the University of Utah. In April 2017, Burian shared how he integrates sustainability into his courses at the interdisciplinary Sustainability Faculty Learning Community, a joint initiative of the Sustainability Office and the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence.

I sat down with Burian after his presentation to discuss current projects, teaching strategies, and what the Wasatch Experience has to do with it. 

You were a part of the group effort to bring the Wasatch Experience to the University of Utah. What inspired that initiative?

The short answer: Myron Willson. [Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer].

Dan McCool, a professor of political science, and myself were working as co-directors of sustainability curriculum development. As part of that charge, we were developing sustainability programs on campus that would be broadly applicable to any student. The programs had to be for any student, sustainable, and would last—which is very difficult to do at a university. Each year we did something different; develop the undergraduate certificate one year, the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability another year, and then we did the Wasatch Experience.

About 6-7 years ago, Myron was telling Dan and I about two programs. He kept pointing us to the Piedmont Project at Emory University, a teaching workshop for faculty. The content was taught through active learning to develop curriculum teaching materials with the help of experts in sustainability. Some universities were using that approach, but not really any other universities of our size at the time. But Myron urged us to consider what the Piedmont Project was doing. So, we did, and the first Wasatch Experience was born.

What impacts have you seen the Wasatch Experience having on campus?

I think it gets instructors focused on how they bring sustainability into the classroom in a meaningful way, which is not easy to do. It has moved past just talking or reading about sustainability in an assignment to a more pedagogical approach to incorporating sustainability.  Faculty are already teaching. The Wasatch Experience is a way to amplify what they are already doing. It’s not really about adding more sustainability courses, rather about adding better sustainability instruction to campus.

I enjoyed your discussion of using an ethics approach to incorporate sustainability in the classroom during your presentation. Could you speak a little bit to how you personally incorporate sustainability into your civil engineering courses?

I do it in a cyclical way. I provide the students motivation to act on the issue, set the structure, have them do quantitative work, and then come back and discuss.

I try to get students motivated with some fundamentally ethical responsibility either environmental, social, economic, or all three. That is the entry point. After I provide the ethical motivation, I contextualize it. I say: “Okay, this is why we are doing it, but this now is how we are going to do this.”

Integrating the sustainability issue into the concepts you are covering in class is critical. When you don’t, the majority of students will say, “oh well, that was a waste of my time because he is just teaching me something from the humanities or social sciences, and I already had that class.” So, I move quickly into what the sustainability topic means from the civil engineering perspective, and get them crunching numbers, because crunching numbers is what they want to do in almost all cases.

After they crunch those numbers, they want to come back and talk about it. That is when I bring out the discussion about sustainability and ethics. I rarely ever just talk about the ethical issues or things without having gone through this cycle. I found if I do then it becomes an opinionated discussion, and not as effective as it could be. After contextualizing an ethical or sustainable issue in civil engineering design, and doing some quantitative work, the students are armed with a better perspective of how it fits in civil engineering practice.

Have you found any surprising connections or other notable connections to sustainability through this process?

The part that is always the most surprising to me is the social sphere of sustainability. The economic and environmental spheres I know pretty well, and I get a feeling for what’s needed in practice, from a personal standpoint, and a philosophical worldview standpoint. But the social part is where I always struggle, because I don’t know it. When I prepare for a lesson I try to learn a little bit more about the social side of some issues or topics.

How do you know when you have successfully incorporated sustainability into your courses?

While there are many sustainability literacy assessments, none really fit into what we are covering in civil engineering, so I created my own quiz that measures student’s sustainability learning; a Civil Engineering Sustainability Literacy Assessment. The assessment is very quantitative. I measure student learning of sustainability, their attitude change towards sustainability, and their affinity for sustainability.

If or how has the Wasatch Experience impacted your teaching?

It hasn’t changed the topics I cover, but it has made me much more intentional about the things I am doing and reflective on what has worked in my teaching, and what hasn’t. It has made me be more reflective and think at a more cognitive level. I have become more of a technician for pedagogical methods following some of the things that were included in the Wasatch Experience. If I am training others on the best instructional strategies for helping people integrate and effectively teach sustainability, I need to make sure I have all those concepts down. This process may just have been my maturation as an educator, but I do think the Wasatch Experience had a lot to do with it.

Do you have any advice for faculty members or teaching assistants who want to start incorporating sustainability into their courses?

The best thing to do is to get a mentor. Not to have someone assigned to you, but to take the initiative and seek someone out. Look for someone who is good at teaching, and has a behind-the-scenes understanding of what they are doing in the classroom. Find someone who has been in it and done it for a while and then just ask them questions. You will learn so much from that mentoring experience.

Animating Sustainability

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant

Lien Fan Shen is an Associate Professor in the Film & Media Arts Department at the University of Utah. She has published five manga (Japanese-styled graphic novels) in Taiwan, was awarded The Best Romantic Comic in Taiwan, and has won several international awards for her animation. Shen participated in the Wasatch Experience in 2015, and last month shared how she integrates sustainability into her courses at the interdisciplinary Sustainability Faculty Learning Community, a joint initiative of the Sustainability Office and the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence.

I sat down with Lien after her presentation to discuss current projects, teaching strategies, and what the Wasatch Experience has to do with it.

The Ukiyo-e landscape print “The Great Wave” by Katsushika Hokusai is considered an icon of world art. What inspired your current project of using 3D technology to create Ukiyo-e style prints of Utah’s polluted landscapes?

I am interested in Japanese prints. But, I am not a printmaking artist. I have a very limited knowledge in terms of producing printmaking artworks. I’m a 3D animator, therefore I am wondering about new ways to utilize 3D printing technology actually connecting to the form of art.

Historically Japanese woodblock prints were more like popular art than high art, such as comic books and movie posters today. They were produced for the general public. One major subject matter in Japanese woodblock prints are landscapes. At the time, people weren’t able to travel around. So, if they wanted to see something from somewhere else, they would look at prints, just like we look at landscape photos today.

At the same time, I love Utah. I have traveled many places in Utah, and I think the environmental issues in Utah are huge. We have such amazing landscapes but often they present complex environmental issues. I thought about how landscapes are such a big subject in Japanese woodblock prints and thought “Why don’t I bring Utah’s landscape to that medium of art with new ways of making?”

Utah does have some magnificent landscapes. I am always disappointed when I can’t see the Oquirrh Mountains or Wasatch during the inversion. What role do you see the digital arts, or the digital artist, having in sustainability conversations?

All artists are trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. I don’t think that is something specific to the digital arts. And what is not “digital” now anyway? I think it is some driving force to try something new by connecting us to, more importantly, the new idea of the human interaction with the computer.

I am not aware of any other computer animation artists trying to build a connection between computer animation and sustainability. I have seen a lot of digital photography about sustainability, but not 3D technology and computer generated arts.  Computer generated images are often built upon a virtual world. When we talk about sustainability, we are talking about a lot of real issues in reality. We often separate the two—the real and the virtual world. I think this is a direction we should work on. We should connect the virtual world with the real world.

3D technology has been used widely in the issue of sustainability—as data-driven visual representation, serving specific scientific purposes, I would like to utilize this technology to incite some kind of feelings, expressions, emotions, that raises awareness of or challenges the unsustainable norms we have in society.

That is interesting idea—blending virtual and physical reality through sustainability. How do you incorporate sustainability into your animation courses?

In my animation production course, the students must learn the skills to make animation shorts. For our midterm project, I asked them to find a place that is significant for them and create an animation about it. Their final project is to create an interactive animation about a sustainability issue. To prepare, the students look for and analyze animation examples. What is the characters’ view of the environment surrounding them? What are the different points of view presented in this particular example of animation? I want them to see the complexity of issues in sustainability.

Animation/Film/Art is always about something. I try to design a project for students to get interested in the topics related to the environment. When I teach, I don’t call it sustainability. I get them interested in the environment and connect them with their environment.

Have you found any surprising connections to sustainability in your teaching?

I told them the idea of sustainability is open to your interpretation as long as you can convince me. I have some students working on the more personal side of sustainability. One project was about an eating disorder and more about sustaining herself as an individual. Another project was about depression. They argued it is about sustainable lives. One student did a great animation of silly/funny fights among characters. They were all shouting the word “sustainability” but they  weren’t really doing anything. I don’t want to limit them, so I let them do all kinds of projects as long as they present a case of their view .

In the end, I always have something that is quite fun and interesting

What challenges have you faced incorporating sustainability into your courses?

The learning objectives of my animation courses are to learn how to make animation. I don’t have a lot of time to discuss the issues, impacts, and why these issues are complicated. I asked my students to do their own research, but during the class time, we spend the majority of our time on learning animation techniques.

The class I incorporated the topic of sustainability in is actually a freshman/fundamental technique course. It is our basic course for animation students. So, I really hope we can have a more in-depth course where students already have the skills so they don’t have to spend too much time in terms of learning how to make animation and thus we can spend more time on investigating the issues they are engaged in their animations. So that is one of the challenges I am facing.

How has your involvement with the Wasatch Experience impacted your teaching?

By going through the Wasatch Experience, workshops, and chatting with folks, I received a lot of help in designing this course project. For example, I always have an assignment of animation analyses. I ask my students to analyze the techniques, story, character design, art styles, and other elements in order to understand the medium (animation) better. But after the Wasatch Experience workshop, I ask them to focus on the topics of sustainability while analyzing animation techniques, styles, character development, and other stuff. That was the idea from one of my Wasatch Experience peers during a group discussion. Implementing this made this particular assignment more solid and I think my students’ analyses now are more focused than before.

Also, my Wasatch Experience peers gave me a lot of accessible readings that I was able to incorporate into my assignments. I am not an expert on sustainability or environmental studies. I think not only I learned a great deal from others, but also now I am backed up with the network and resources for my teaching and research projects.

What advice do you have for faculty and teaching assistants who want to incorporate sustainability into their courses?

I think if someone wants to teach sustainability, the best approach is trying to not say the word. For a lot of students, this word becomes a barrier. In a way, you want to gradually bring them into what you want them to learn. Instead of telling them this big word that, in a sense, may mean nothing to them, my idea is always to think about how I can make them aware of their environment.

Image of Lien Fan Shen via the Utah Daily Chronicle article further highlighting her creative research and art-making.