Randall Ott , dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, and Ligia Johnson , a CUA architecture student, were quoted in a June 22 Washington Post article about the increasing role the environment is playing in college courses and curriculums. See their comments in the article below.
|Students Lead Drive Reshaping Curricula|
From: Washington Post Date: June 22, 2008 Author: Susan KinzieThe environmental fervor sweeping college campuses has reached beyond the push to recycle plastics and offer organic food and is transforming the curriculum, permeating classrooms, academic majors and expensive new research institutes.
The University of Maryland teaches "green" real estate strategies for landscape architects. The University of Virginia's business graduate students recently created a way to generate power in rural Indian villages with discarded rice husks. And in a Catholic University architecture studio last week, students displayed ideas for homes made from discarded shipping containers.
"It should be part of everything we do," said Ligia Johnson, a Catholic student whose plan for the Kenilworth neighborhood in Northeast Washington included roofs that collect rainwater and grow plants and trees.
What was once a fringe interest, perhaps seemingly a fad, has become fully entrenched in academic life, university officials say, affecting not just how students live but what they learn and, as graduates, how they will change workplaces and neighborhoods.
At George Washington University last month, many students pinned green ribbons on their graduation robes or their recycled-cotton caps and signed pledges to take their commitment to environmentalism into their jobs.
Concern about the environment has waxed and waned in the past few decades, said GWU President Steven Knapp. But with fears of climate change and high gas prices, "the situation has become dire enough that people are focused on it," Knapp said. "Energy is costly enough that people are focused on it. We really think this time, it's here to stay."
For years, student activists have demanded environmentally friendly changes, prompting university officials to reevaluate how they heat classrooms, water campus greens and buy light bulbs. Frostburg State University in Western Maryland, for instance, has a wind-powered generating station. Johns Hopkins University is planning to build its own heat and power generator.
Students are also driving the academic push that is infusing curriculum and research with an environmental consciousness.
For those who are skeptical about global warming and think that the current trend is often too alarmist, the changes carry risk. "It discredits science," said Richard Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at MIT. "It's propaganda," he added, with opposing viewpoints rarely explored.
"I think it's getting a little out of proportion, the emphasis on the environment," said Donald J. Boudreaux, chairman of the economics department at George Mason University. He said people increasingly look at environmental issues almost as a religion, with unquestioning belief, rather than thinking critically about scientific evidence or economic issues.
But many school officials say there's a growing consensus about climate change. "Three or four years ago, I would hear that from people, that global warming's a fraud," said Randall Ott, architecture dean at Catholic. "I don't hear that at all now," especially from students. In his view, he said, "the evidence is overwhelming -- and very troubling. We at our university feel a certain ethical mission to be operative on this issue."
Hundreds of university presidents have signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, pledging to take leadership on eliminating greenhouse gases. In 2006, the group now called the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education had about 35 members. Now it has more than 500.
"Colleges are realizing that achieving sustainability is one of the defining challenges of this century," said Julian Dautremont-Smith, a member of the association. "They want to be on the right side of it."
The biggest driver, he said, is student demand. The Princeton Review, which started rating colleges' sustainability this year, did a survey asking prospective students what they want from their school. Two-thirds said they would value a commitment to the environment, and nearly a quarter said it would strongly influence their choice.
At U-Va., where students helped design a barge that will travel the Chesapeake Bay and that they hope will teach children about ecology, architecture dean Karen Van Lengen said environmentalism "is not a course at our school. It's a way of thinking. . . . It's a mind-set."
The topic can be found across the academic spectrum, often popping up in unexpected places, including fashion design, medicine and law. At Goucher College in Baltimore, all students are required to take an environmental sustainability course. GWU is launching an institute to study solar energy, and a panel has proposed making sustainability a core value for the university.
At the University of Oregon, students pushed the school to add a minor in environmental studies. "The University of Oregon is gah-gah over sustainability and environmental issues," a spokesman wrote in an e-mail, adding that over the past decade, the number of seats in classes that touch on such issues has more than doubled.
Schools have added graduate programs or adapted them and increased research. At Johns Hopkins University, students in a part-time master's degree program for working engineers kept asking for more courses on alternative energy, Prof. Allan Bjerkaas said.
The Harvard Environmental Economics Program is tapping students and professors from numerous subject areas for research issues such as climate change.
The University of Maryland at Baltimore's environmental nursing program has included a push to remove mercury thermometers from hospitals.
A scientist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, which offers a doctorate in environmental studies, mapped out an analysis of human impact on the world's ecosystems.
At the College Park campus, students are taught to think about the long-term effects of growth. In development, it's typically "pinch your pennies and get out of there," said Robert Tjaden, who just graduated and plans to develop homes.
After seeing much of the farmland in his Delaware home town turn into cookie-cutter homes far from jobs, and studying wetlands, storm water management and the cleanup of sites, he wants to build neighborhoods with more trees and more shared open space, rather than big, private lawns full of grass. "There are many alternatives to just wiping the slate clean and plopping the houses down," he said.
Students asked for "greener" courses in architecture at Catholic, Ott said, with topics such as computer modeling programs that calculate how much energy buildings use under different climatic conditions. "The student interest then led to a faculty interest," he said. Among the resulting changes are a master's degree in sustainable design and a master's in city and regional planning that emphasizes avoiding sprawl, long commutes and so on.
He said he expects more in the future: "It's going to become critical, in my view, to the whole evolution of architecture."