Preparing for the world: Integrating sustainability and global learning within ecology curriculum
Ecology has long been acknowledged as a science whose subject matter spans political boundaries, and publication and collaborations are increasingly multi-national. In typical U.S. higher education, some effort is made to provide students with exposure to global issues, but most efforts have been the responsibility of general education requirements. Our large public university launched a Global Learning Initiative committed to ensuring “that all students have multiple, substantive and intentional encounters with global perspectives [and sustainability], using the academic disciplines as the principal site for this work.” On our campus, students pursue ecology within several different units. Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, and Forestry were among the leading programs in adopting the Global Learning Initiative, and each unit took a distinctive approach. We review different departmental approaches to the initiative to ask what strategies at the level of the institution and at the level of an academic department or degree program are most feasible for implementation, and to assess which seem to be most effective in student learning and in outcomes for graduates.
Academic departments have differed in their approach to incorporating global learning and sustainability themes; most frequently specific content is embedded into required and elective courses at multiple levels in the curriculum. Travel experiences, foreign language training, and explicit preparation for multi-cultural or cross-cultural competency are other components in some units. The program’s size (enrollment), the personal experiences and engagement of faculty, and the flexibility of the degree program’s curriculum appear to impact the approach chosen. Existing faculty collaborations have proven especially influential in creating conduits for students (both in research activities and in short courses led by faculty). Student responses differ as well; students majoring in different disciplines participate at different rates in study abroad, in short-term international experiences, and in our unique dual-degree Global Science and Engineering Program (where students earn both a BS in their discipline and a language BA in five years, with a full year abroad). We discuss the benefits but also some challenges in pursuing an institution-wide strategy and embedding global education and sustainability within departmental majors.