UTPA task force hosts workshop on environmental program efforts
Contact: Amanda Perez, Intern (956) 665-2741
Posted: 04/27/2011
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Sustainability efforts by the Environmental Studies Program Task Force Committee and The Office for Sustainability at The University of Texas-Pan American are expanding into the classrooms with a cluster of environmental elective courses that engage all students in achieving a sustainable campus and region and give students job opportunities as a result.

UTPA faculty and staff members met recently to expand the University's green efforts to the classroom. Pictured from left to right are: Amy Cummins, assistant professor of English; Kamala Platt, English lecturer; Dr. Shirley Vincent, director of educational research at the National Council for Science and the Environment; Dr. Lynn Vincentnathan, associate professor of criminal justice and anthropology; Marianella Franklin, director of sustainability.

To further educate faculty and students about these classes, the task force hosted an Environmental Studies and Sustainability Faculty Teaching Workshop April 15. Nearly 50 faculty members and students from the Environmental Awareness Club and Environmental Sciences Program attended the conference. The goal of the event was to discuss a specific curriculum regarding sustainability methods and practices that will integrate environmental awareness and education across campus.

"We want to develop and strengthen connections with people on campus involved in environmental activities," said Dr. Lynn Vincentnathan, chair of the Environmental Studies Task Force. "We want to inspire UTPA faculty to join us in developing courses and help with our environmental course cluster and minor. We also hope that faculty will include environmental and sustainability content in their existing courses wherever feasible and appropriate."

To lead the discussion, Dr. Shirley Vincent, director of educational research at the National Council for Science and the Environment, spoke about "Building a Quality Environmental Studies Program." Vincent is also the author of the 2010 report "Interdisciplinary Environmental Education on the Nation's Campuses: Elements of Field Identity and Curriculum Design."

Workshop attendees participated in breakout sessions on topics such as interdisciplinarity, service learning, environmental science in environmental studies, environmental activism and justice, creative capstone experiences, community partnerships and outreach and co-curricular learning and campus sustainability.

"Having our faculty and students listen to and speak with a renowned speaker like Shirley Vincent was extremely successful," said Marianella Franklin, director of sustainability programs at UTPA. "They were able to share their questions and concerns and left with a lot of information and resources on how to tailor an environmental studies program to our students and area. It was very motivating and inspiring to see many of our faculty interested in providing input to our courses."

The task force's ultimate objective is to create a minor in the environmental studies program by Fall 2012. Franklin said the task force wants to ensure that every student, regardless of career path, has the opportunity of gaining literacy in sustainability and understanding how to integrate sustainability into their lifestyles and professional paths.

With the environmental science program, undergraduate and graduate elective course clusters in earth and environmental studies and internships offered through The Office of Sustainability, students are getting hired because of their knowledge in this area of study. Maryann Ruiz, a senior majoring in engineering and an intern with the office, is in the process of becoming an engineer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Students Patricia Garza, AJ Anderson and Carlos Lopez also found jobs with South Texas Housing Authority, Advocacy Resource Center for Housing, and Green Mountain Energy, respectively.

"This gives you an idea of how the students are applying this information and knowledge they are receiving from professors and our office," said Franklin. "They know how to speak the language of environmental, social and economic sustainability that companies are looking for. The future of sustainability is already here at UTPA and our students are getting hired because of it."

UTPA faculty planning to teach environmental courses in various disciplines across campus created the Environmental Studies Program Task Force Committee in February 2010 to establish a broad interdisciplinary environmental course cluster and minor.

"Students going into nearly every profession can benefit from environmental literacy gained from the courses and minor by helping their businesses, agencies and institutions understand the environmental problems confronting us and becoming 'green' in cost effective ways and by promoting 'green ethics,'" said Vincentnathan.

For more information on the environmental elective course cluster or the task force, call Vincentnathan at (956) 665-3567 or visit the program's website.