Inviting Others to Integrate Sustainability into Courses and Workplace

Denise K. Comer
Written March 2013
Denise Comer is an Assistant Professor of the Practice in Writing and the Director of First-Year Writing at Duke University.

The Trillium workshop inspired me to think creatively about how I can have an impact on not only my own first-year writing class that I teach each semester, but on a broader level through my role as Director of First-Year Writing. In my own first-year writing courses, I have integrated sustainable practices: eliminating paper usage for workshops, course readings, and course handouts; minimizing usage of electronic resources during class time; and modeling for students personal efforts at sustainability through the use of reusable water containers. Of these, my commitment to not printing out course materials—syllabi, assignments, student papers that we workshop—has been the most rewarding because it saved not only paper, but my own time with preparing copies prior to class.

On a broader level, though, I initiated a conversation among the Thompson Writing Program’s staff and faculty about our unit’s environmental impact. We had a discussion and brainstorming session at our first faculty meeting in Fall 2012 (we have ~30 full-time faculty members and 3 full-time staff members). Our unit piloted a program with the Office of Sustainability: the Green Classroom Certification Program. Five of our faculty have earned this certification for their Spring 2013 Writing 101 courses: Benjamin Gatling, Lee Anne Reilly, Julie Tuttle, Brooke Wheeler, and me. Since most of our faculty teach multiple sections of Writing 101, this actually amounts to around 14 certified TWP courses during Spring 2013. For Fall 2013 we hope to increase the number of certified Writing 101 courses.

Another outcome of this TWP Green Initiative is that one of our staff members, Jennie Saia, Program Coordinator for the TWP, participated in a workshop outlining Green Workplace Certification. She has a number of excellent ideas, one of which involved converting to reusable water bottles with our unit’s logo. She recently won a Green Grant from the Office of Sustainability to purchase these water bottles for our TWP faculty and staff, and so we can provide them instead of water bottles at several key functions our unit hosts during the 2013-14 year with large attendance. We are also now forming a TWP Green Task Force to make a strategic plan for our unit to earn a Green Workplace Certification. This task force will unveil its plan at our August faculty retreat. Finally, my colleague Marcia Rego, Director of Faculty Development and Assessment in the TWP, co-facilitate a summer seminar in teaching writing each August, where we will also integrate conversations about sustainability in order for new first-year writing faculty to have the chance to think about their own course themes and strategies, and possible connections with sustainability.

Since Writing 101 is the only required course taken by all Duke undergraduates (Trinity and Pratt), we hold, in my opinion, a particular responsibility and opportunity to make a difference in student thinking about sustainability.

Another opportunity to move forward others’ thinking about sustainability arose through my work designing a MOOC in first-year writing (funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). I was delighted that Rebecca Vidra, of the Nicolas School, has agreed to be a disciplinary consultant for this MOOC. The course’s inquiry is on expertise, and through her consultancy, she will discuss her own scholarship around sustainability and provide examples throughout that draw on sustainability.

As the TWP moves forward to integrate a writing component to Duke in Kunshan (DKU), I will continue to consider how to bring forward Trillium concepts into this new global environment. My colleague, Vicki Russell, Director of the Writing Studio, and I will be traveling to China in May 2013 (funded by an ERIC grant), to learn more about writing pedagogy and needs in this context. We are in the process of developing syllabi for two possible writing-related courses in DKU, and I will work to thread practices in and themes about sustainability when possible.

Through initiatives such as these, where our programmatic work has the potential to inspire others (students, staff, faculty, broader publics, international scholars, etc.) to enact sustainability in their practices, I am optimistic that the reach of the Trillium Fellows’ workshop will be broad, meaningful, and various.