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Course lays ground for new minor

Nicole Toczauer | Friday, August 26, 2011

A new one-credit course offered by the Office of Sustainability will apply environmental issues to subjects across the University’s range of study, professor Maria Pia Miglietta said.

“Students will be educated and able to bridge across disciplines,” Miglietta said. “Sustainability involves different perspectives. It’s not just science, but architecture, business, English and more.”

Miglietta, director of the University’s new minor in sustainability, said the course would feature a different speaker each week that will share how sustainability affects his or her field of work. The class, titled “What Sustainability Means to Us,” will feature 14 different Notre Dame personalities.

The interdisciplinary approach to the course is essential to teaching sustainability, Miglietta said.

Professor Anthony Serianni served on a committee of faculty members that began to plan the minor last year. He said Notre Dame’s approach to teaching sustainability differs from other universities.

“Implementation becomes complicated when you cross the colleges, but it’s important to hear the different perspectives,” Serianni said. ” Sustainability is an intrinsically interdisciplinary topic, so it should be treated that way.”

Serianni said the committee decided to introduce the minor gradually with the one-credit autumn course before opening other courses.

“Rather than starting full swing with a class, we wanted to begin with an informal mechanism,” Serianni said. “The gateway class for the minor, an introductory course, will be offered by next spring and taught by four professors.”

Professor Jessica Hellmann also served on the committee that built the minor last year. She said the gateway class, titled “Principles of Sustainability,” would be taught by Serianni, English professor John Sitter, sociology professor Andy Weigert and engineering professor Joe Fernando. The four professors will be present in class at the same time to lead interactive discussions.

The decision to implement a class with four professors followed the interdisciplinary approach the minor promotes, Hellmann said.

Continuing the innovative approach, the minor’s advisory board will choose four different professors to teach the class each semester. That constant flow of professors will create a dynamic exchange of perspectives, she said.

“We’re really excited. We want this to create some new conversations on campus,” Hellmann said. “It’ll allow students looking for an interdisciplinary education an official credential to show they’ve gone above and beyond.”

Serianni said the faculty members involved in the program are excited for classes to begin and hope to energize students in the same way. Resource stewardship is a critical issue especially when considering the future, he said.

“What motivates me is serious environmental concerns, but beyond that there’s the geopolitical implication of dependency on oil, even on U.S. security,” Serianni said. “Students should be familiar with sustainability, since they will be called upon to answer some of these problems.”