Building Trans-Disciplinary Sustainability Studies into the College Curriculum

By Jeffrey Robb, David Rylander and Cynthia Maguire.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Education

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While some universities, such as Arizona State and the University of Michigan, have large-scale interdisciplinary sustainability programs with major funding (Fogg 2006, George 2007), few have incorporated team teaching across disciplines and applied service projects at the undergraduate level with minimal resources. Processes, challenges and implications will be presented for discussion. The Texas Woman’s University “Science, Society and Sustainability” certificate begins with a gateway course team taught by science, business, and law instructors; requires building block courses from a variety of disciplines; and culminates in a capstone course with an applied service learning project. Goals for the program include: (1) to prepare students for jobs in different disciplines that require understanding of sustainability principles, (2) to allow students to use critical thinking and applied learning in a multidisciplinary way, and (3) to implement local, student-led sustainability initiatives. The program integrates the principles and values of sustainable practices into all aspects of education and learning so students have the necessary skills to address emerging social, economic, legal, cultural and environmental problems. In a trans-disciplinary world with multi-dimensional challenges such as sustainability, higher education institutions must re-think their approach to education, including more integrative, cross-discipline learning experiences (Conceicao et al. 2010). This type of innovation also lends itself to Quality Enhancement Plan initiatives (e.g., service learning, critical thinking, research or communication skills). Potential learning outcomes can apply to faculty as well as students. Challenges can include faculty buy-in and training, infrastructure impediments to team teaching, functional territorialism and lack of support from administration and the community. Yet with successful implementation, this type of program can add value for students and bring distinction to the university.

Keywords: College Education, Sustainability Certificate, Trans-disciplinary Studies, Team Teaching, QEP

The International Journal of Sustainability Education, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp.61-72. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 630.611KB).

Prof. Jeffrey Robb

Professor of Government, Department of History and Government, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, USA

Jeffrey B. Robb is a Full Professor of Government at Texas Woman’s University and the Director of the Legal Studies Program. He teaches courses in Environmental Law, Civil Litigation, Sex Discrimination, Legal History, and Legal Research and Writing. Dr. Robb received his B.A. degree from North Texas State University, an M.L.S. from the University of North Texas, and his J.D. degree from the University of Texas School of Law. Dr. Robb practiced law for ten years as a U.S. Navy JAG Corps officer and as an attorney in private practice. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and his research interests include the historical context of the evolution of law, the role of gender in law, and interdisciplinary research regarding law, business, and the environment.

Assoc. Prof. David Rylander

Associate Professor of Business, School of Management, Business and Economics, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, USA

Dr. David Rylander is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Texas Woman’s University. He has taught a wide variety of marketing courses at undergraduate and graduate levels and has led graduate study tours to Europe, Asia and Central America. Courses have included an interdisciplinary team-taught sustainability course and an eco-study tour to Costa Rica. Previous journal articles and conference presentations have included the topics of sales force socialization, sport marketing, entrepreneurship and green marketing. Dr. Rylander is a Sam Walton Fellow and sponsor of Enactus (formerly SIFE), a student organization that empowers people in need through economic, social and environmental sustainability approaches.

Cynthia Maguire

Senior Lecturer, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, USA

Ms. Maguire has a B.S. in Medical Technology from Central State University (Edmond, Oklahoma), and M.S. degrees in both Biology and Chemistry from Texas Woman’s University (Denton, Texas). Her primary teaching areas are science core courses and general chemistry. Her research interests include studying the scholarship of teaching and learning as a way to improve science education and environmental sustainability issues, particularly those involving water resources and native plants. Several of TWU’s SCI prefix core courses follow the SENCER guidelines (see designed to generate better retention of science knowledge. Maguire has been a strong proponent of the SENCER approach in developing courses related to sustainability at TWU and is actively involved in building the Science Society and Sustainability certificate program. Her work is partially supported by grants from the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (see Cynthia has recently served as the 2011 president of the Native Plant Society of Texas and will serve as immediate past president in 2012.