The regional impact of university institutes in promoting ecoliteracy and sustainability agenda
Historically, the responsibility of promoting ecoliteracy and sustainability on a local and regional basis has been undertaken by individual faculty, working within academic departments. Land-grant institutions often have Extension Offices to conduct community education on issues relating to natural resource conservation – especially as they relate to agronomy, forestry, and wildlife issues. More recently, colleges and universities have created institutes to address ecological and sustainability topics – often centering on sustainable energy, agriculture, and urban systems. Those institutes are often inter-departmental organizations that facilitate communication and interdisciplinary research between ecologists, other natural scientists, social scientists, and colleagues in business, communications, and policy. An investigation was undertaken to assess the regional impact of those institutes in promoting ecological literacy and sustainability to their communities and region at large. The assessment was performed by interrogating websites and interviewing the directors of institutes, and targeted stakeholders.
Based on our assessments, Institutes serve a vital role in providing cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches to promote ecological literacy and sustainability. Examples of institute efforts include: (1) conducting community-based research on sustainability topics – often through partnerships between faculty, students, and the private sector, (2) producing white papers, brochures, web-based resources, newsletters, and reports on sustainability-related topics that are targeted to the public and decision-makers, rather than purely academic audiences, (3) providing input to legislators and resource agencies on pending legislation dealing with development and conservation issues, (4) holding webinars and town-hall meetings for the public, legislators, and media, and (5) providing career-development opportunities for teachers and educational events and field experiences for students. The work of academic institutes often informs the pedagogy and research conducted within academic departments.