Success Stories

Sustainability course a model

Class participants working at Blandford Nature Center

A course developed by Melissa Baker-Boosamra, an affiliate faculty member in the Liberal Studies Department, could serve as a model for teaching sustainability.

Baker-Boosamra is writing a chapter in new book on teaching sustainability through service learning. Her chapter, focused on interdisciplinary approaches, is informed by her course titled "Sustainability in Practice." This directed practicum course allows a group of students to deeply explore the idea of sustainability through readings and dialogue, while engaging in 120 hours of community service projects that support that investigation, over the course of the semester.

Students in the Liberal Studies program are placed with community partners, including nonprofit organizations, public schools and businesses, each of which are engaged in the work of sustainability in varying capacities. Students work in pairs with organizations as diverse as office furniture giant Haworth Inc. and the Bloom Collective radical bookstore.

"I very intentionally placed the students with these broadly varied organizations," Baker-Boosamra said.  "Each of our community partners represents a different approach to sustainability, but they all focus on sustainability as a multifaceted issue that encompasses social, environmental and economic concerns. As a result, students gain a depth of understanding based on their individual field placements, and a breadth of understanding about the various ways in which sustainability is being approached throughout the community, through in-class reflection and discussion."

Students also worked with Blandford Nature Center's Mixed Greens Program, Grand Rapids Public School's C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy, the local economic development organization Local First!, and the F.A.I.R. fair trade coalition.

In the course students grapple with questions not merely of how to do sustainability, but why. "It's about connecting ourselves with life at its most fundamental level," Baker-Boosamra said. "By engaging the issue of sustainability in the community, with various community groups, students are better positioned to make connections between their academic work and the 'real world.'"

The forthcoming book is titled "Social Responsibility and Sustainability: Multidisciplinary Perspectives Through Service Learning" and will be published by Stylus Publishing.

by Brian J. Bowe

This story was filed with the tags: First-Rate Faculty, Published, Sustainability