Undergrad researchers build sustainability course inventory — and take home international award

September 9, 2019 by Jovana Jankovic - A&S News

After 6 months of research, five undergraduate students have developed the first sustainability course inventory at U of T — a comprehensive catalogue of all sustainability-oriented undergraduate courses across all disciplines and campuses.

Their research also maps community-engaged learning opportunities and co-curricular/extracurricular activities that feature sustainability. Together, these resources form the basis for a curricular transformation that will enable students of any academic stream, whether it’s literature or chemistry, to learn about tackling arguably the most urgent issue of our time within the bounds of their chosen studies.

Now, Rashad Brugmann, Nicolas Côté, Nathan Postma, Emily Shaw and Danielle Pal are taking home a Campus Sustainability Research Award from the Philadelphia-based Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for their paper, “Expanding Student Engagement in Sustainability: Using SDG- and CEL-Focused Inventories to Transform Curriculum at the University of Toronto.”

The awards were announced today and will be presented at AASHE’s annual conference in Spokane, Washington this October.

Four of the five undergraduate researchers were Arts & Science students at the time of their project’s release — three members of Trinity College and one of University College — although some have since graduated. The fifth student, Brugmann, studies in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

The undergraduate researchers were supervised by Professor John Robinson, an internationally-renowned expert on transforming higher education campuses into testing grounds for sustainability projects. Robinson teaches at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the School of the Environment in the Faculty of Arts & Science, while also acting as the University of Toronto’s Presidential Advisor on the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability.

The students’ paper was published in the international peer-reviewed journal Sustainability. They also presented their work at the International Sustainable Campus Network conference in Stockholm in 2018.

They initially came together in 2017 as research assistants for the Expanded Student Engagement Project (ESE) at U of T, an arm of the President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability (CECCS). The goal of the CECCS is to incorporate sustainable technologies and practices into all facets of campus life in order to meet the unprecedented challenges of climate change and sustainability.

The ESE research is groundbreaking for using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to build the inventory of sustainability courses. The inventory comprises 2,228 courses — a quarter of all undergraduate course offerings at U of T — with the goal of making it more accessible for students to add sustainability content to their educational experience.

U of T students who want to know more about sustainability issues like the critical challenge of climate crisis — from any academic discipline — can now incorporate sustainability research into their studies more easily.