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Academics

Environmental Leadership Center Executive Director John Brock Proposes a Shift Toward Academics in the ELC

by Mariah Parker, Multimedia Editor

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Since its inception in 2006, The Environmental Leadership Center has been an advocate of environmental and sustainability education and a hub for campus operations like Insulate, EcoTeam, the Swannanoa Journal, and Green Walkabouts. Through these programs, the ELC endeavors to turn green-minded students into leaders in the fight for sustainability.

In an effort to ensure that students walk their sustainability talk, Interim Director of the ELC John Brock has put forth a two-pronged proposal that bridges ELC initiatives and campus academics.

“We need to mentor new leaders rooted in a deep understanding of natural Earth systems and savvy in understanding processes required to create a just, resilient, and sustainable human society,” says Brock. “To promote sustainability is to develop leaders … to develop leaders, we need to strengthen the curriculum.”

In developing this curriculum, Brock turned to Geography and Social Science Professor David Abernathy; Environmental Studies and Sustainable Agriculture Professor Laura Lengnick; and Business Administration and Economics Professor Susan Kask for help.

“We already have an Environment in Society track in the Global Studies major,” explained Abernathy. “There’s a seeming disconnect [between the ELC and Global Studies] when there shouldn’t be.”

Over the past year, Brock, Abernathy, and other faculty have discussed the intersections of their fields and begun developing new trans-disciplinary curricula that will prepare students to tackle real-world environmental issues.

“If a student wants to be part of an NGO, it will require more than a background in chemistry or biology … politics, sociology, and economics also come into account,” says Abernathy. “Making environmental changes happen requires multiple perspectives.”

During this time, Brock examined, met with representatives from, reviewed documents from, and attended workshops at comparable centers at Furman University in Greenville, SC; Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa; Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA; Catawba College in Salisbury, NC; Emory University in Atlanta, GA; and about ten other small colleges.

From this review, Brock developed a proposal, which was recently sent to VP of Academic Affairs Paula Garrett for approval.

“The goals [of the proposal] are two-fold,” Brock said in an email. “1) To create a collaborative process that will lead to new interdisciplinary sustainability curricula nested in the social sciences, and 2) to continue the transformation of the ELC as interdisciplinary sustainability and environmental center.”

“To promote sustainability is to develop leaders… to develop leaders, we need to strengthen the curriculum.” -John Brock, Interim Director of ELC

In the proposal, Brock also outlined the responsibilities of the future ELC executive director. According to the proposal, the new Executive Directorship will be “a hybrid administrative-faculty position reporting directly to the Dean of the College. That person will be able to teach interdisciplinary courses in sustainability and will most likely have a terminal degree in the social sciences.”

While the new executive director would instruct courses in the Global Studies Department, the proposal mandates that he or she maintain connections with the Environmental Studies Department as well.

“We just want to strengthen ties between things we already do well here,” explains Abernathy.

According to the proposal, the new executive director must be able to manage and lead the existing programs and staff of the ELC. He or she would also be responsible for the revision of the ELC mission and renaming of the center.

“We’ve been talking about revising our mission for a while now,” says senior Conservation Bio major and EcoTeam crew leader Octavia Sola. “Still, I’m kind of attached to the name ELC.”

Brock also envisions the new executive director and the director of FMTS joining the regular President’s Advisory Council, or PAC, meetings in “an effort to create of broad cohesion initiatives and discussion of campus-wide sustainability issues.”

To further this dialogue, Brock’s proposal also advocates for the creation of a Sustainability Education Working Group, which would help develop new trans-disciplinary curricula in sustainability and discuss new ELC initiatives.

The search for the new director will begin next fall. Once found, she or he will replace John Brock as Director of the ELC.

“I feel deeply that this is the right direction for the ELC and the college,” says Brock.

Brock ensures that, in spite of these alterations, ELC will sustain no programming changes. EcoTeam, Insulate!, the Swannanoa Journal, and Green Walkabouts will continue.

As new interdisciplinary courses are implemented in the next year, ELC Education Director Stan Cross will take on new teaching responsibilities.

Two new courses in sustainability education have already been approved for Spring 2011. The first will provide context and preparation for the summer environmental internship. A second will serve as a venue for critical thinking about how to improve the organizations that students work within.

According to Abernathy, these additional courses reflect a campus-wide streamlining of academic accreditation for student internships.

“When I did my internship, I had to call it an independent study in order to get academic credit. It was a huge bureaucratic hassle,” says Sola, who protected and monitored sea turtle nests with Yawkey Wildlife Center in 2009. “The internships usually tie in really well with people’s majors, so I’m glad they’re making it easier for students to get academic credit.”

Conservation Biology major and fellow Yawkey Wildlife intern Amanda Wegmann expressed a similar sentiment. “I feel like you learn a lot in field work as opposed to the classroom,” says Wegmann. “Still, it’s nice to get academic credit for that kind of learning.”

However, Abernathy has expressed fears about the additional workload that these internship courses present.

“Carving out time for reflection is important, but the concern is that these courses add credit to already-taxing majors, further limiting the liberal arts aspect of this place,” Abernathy noted.

Wegmann decided against enrolling in an independent study course to receive credit for her internship. “Adding another two credits onto a fall semester when you’re already pretty booked can be a lot,” admits Wegmann. “There are so many sciences classes I want to take but don’t have time to.”

Brock’s proposal was approved by PAC one month ago and will be presented to the ELC council in the next two weeks. Future ELC initiatives and additional interdisciplinary courses are still under consideration; until then, the interdepartmental conversation around sustainability education will continue.

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