A New and Improved Undergraduate Sustainability Certificate: Everything Students and Faculty Need to Know

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

In its very definition of sustainability as “the integrated pursuit of social equity, environmental integrity, and economic security,” the University of Utah acknowledges that we must weave sustainability into every fiber of our economic and social systems. Next school year, the U will launch a revised Sustainability Certificate that seamlessly weaves sustainability into the fibers of its undergraduate education.

The Undergraduate Sustainability Certificate, which has been dormant for several years, will take on a new form in the fall of 2021, integrating sustainability into students’ general education and empowering them to approach their primary courses of study through a sustainability lens. By engaging students in the scientific, artistic, technological, and human dimensions of sustainability, this certificate offers something to everyone—from budding scientist to humanities scholar.

“I have students that are pre-med, and they’re really interested in doing things in medical school with a sustainability component,” says Dr. Jennifer Watt, associate director of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies program. Through this certificate, students from all majors will gain the knowledge and skills they need to leverage their unique passions and skillsets toward building a more sustainable world.

The certificate is designed for students in the natural sciences, arts, and humanities who would like more flexibility than is offered through the transdisciplinary ENVST minor. The U’s Sustainability Education Advisory Committee created this certificate to allow students to take a majority of certificate credits that also count toward general education requirements, integrating the two such that students can complete their general education intellectual exploration requirements with a focus on sustainability. “This certificate is unique in that it will allow students to gain an understanding of the ways that different disciplines approach a single topic, while also studying sustainability,” says Dr. Adrienne Cachelin, the sustainability education director.

“The Undergraduate Sustainability Certificate will create a pathway for students passionate about the planet to complete their general education in a framework informed by their interests and dedicated to the creation of a more sustainable future,” says John Nilsson, assistant dean and director of appeals for general education. “If students have already completed their general education coursework, there is still room for them in this certificate program, as there are almost 400 courses with sustainability designations at the U,” Cachelin notes.

There are two sustainability course designations within the certificate: SUSL for courses with a limited sustainability scope, and SUSC for courses with a more complete sustainability scope. To achieve the certificate, students must complete a total of nine credits of SUSC coursework, at least six of which must be outside their departments; 12 credits of SUSL coursework, at least six of which must be outside their home college; and a portfolio of at least five assignments that demonstrate what a sustainability lens has brought to their major course of study.

The process for faculty to obtain sustainability course designation is streamlined and easy, requiring a short application form, submission of a course syllabus, and a brief justification for course designation. Applications for the fall semester are due on April 15, 2021.

“The course designation is beneficial for faculty, students, and the University,” Cachelin explains. “Students can look for this designation in the catalog and registration pages in order to follow their interests, faculty can be acknowledged for their contributions in teaching about equity and environment, and the University can more easily appeal to students across the country, a large percentage of whom select a University based on sustainability concerns.”

The sustainability designation will also make courses identifiable to a broader base of students. Designated courses are an opportunity for faculty to teach students from different academic backgrounds and majors, whose diverse experiences often enrich classroom discussion. “I think it’s a good thing to have that designation on there. It’s advertising it to a broader community,” Watt explains.

Kerry Case, the U’s chief sustainability officer, looks forward to the influence this certificate will have into the future, beyond the walls of academia. “As a university, our biggest sustainability impact is the knowledge our students carry with them after graduation,” Case says. “The revised undergraduate sustainability certificate will be another critical way for students to gain the tools they need to build a more equitable and environmentally sustainable future.”

Faculty, don’t forget to apply for sustainability designation by April 15, 2021. And students, remember to keep an eye out for those SUSL and SUSC courses this fall.