2011 Kociolek Research Project

In Spring 2011, Erika Kociolek (MEM ’11) conducted a research project on syllabi containing sustainability content at a number of US colleges and universities. She presented her findings at the 2011 Trillium Workshop, and produced these WordPress pages to document her findings.

Erica chose to describe the changes made to three courses in depth; the choice of the following courses was primarily a function of 1) the extent to which faculty included detailed descriptions of course changes in their reflections and 2) the course discipline.

She draws on the examples of course changes described in Chase (1998) in the Literature Review. Her hope was that descriptions of how courses were modified will be useful and inspiring to faculty as they grapple with how to integrate sustainability concepts in their own way into courses. The italicized text in these descriptions comes from a mix of the syllabi and corresponding reflections for the courses listed below.


  • ENCE 215: Applied Engineering Science

Applied Engineering Science is a team-taught course in the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) department at the University of Maryland.  Participation in the Chesapeake Project provided a forum for one of the faculty members, A. Torrents, to carry out an ongoing effort of the CEE department to modify course structure and content of ENCE 215.  The course is intended to provide an introduction to topics within the broad field of “Sustainable Engineering” and to provide a bridge between freshman science courses and engineering applications.  In the past, the course has reviewed basic principles of chemistry and biology and applied these principles to engineering and societal issues.

The revised syllabus has shifted to a problem-based approach wherein sustainability issues [are presented] and … chemistry/biology [is used] to understand and quantify the issues. For example, in lieu of a unit on stoichiometry, students engage in “carbon footprint” [and] control of acid rain determinations that incorporate stoichiometry principles.  The first half of the course covers three main topics: 1) sustainable use of materials, including topics such as material properties and life cycle analysis; 2) sustainable waste management, including biosolids, fly ash, and green roofs; and 3) atmospheric sustainability, including a discussion of carbon footprints, fuels, and acid rain and its ecological impacts.  Torrents’ interactions with other workshop participants also convinced her to modify some of the course content and the use of class time.  The course now includes topics on the the intersection of the economics, and social aspects [of sustainability] and engage[s] students in class activities with a “Student-centered” format.


  • EDSP 451: Curriculum and Instruction, Elementary Special Education

S. De La Paz teaches Curriculum and Instruction: Elementary Special Education, which explores what it means to teach social studies and science to students with special needs in a variety of educational settings.  Students in the course learn how to construct rich teaching and learning experiences for students with disabilities using the Maryland State Framework and local curriculum guides to inform the development of lesson plans.  A key emphasis of the course is science curricula; sustainability is used as a frame of reference for this broad topic, touching on resource management, the environment, economics, social decision -making, problem solving, and includes examples that are both global (deforestation in the Amazon) and local (access to fresh produce in urban communities).

De La Paz incorporated a class field trip to the Paint Branch Creek and has her students participate in a stream survey, a an activity focused on a local resource which serves as a lens for broader issues related to forest, wetland, and water resources, including pollution and runoff, the impact of development, contamination and cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, and ecosystem services.  De La Paz requires students collaborate with future science educators to develop a wiki lesson plan, which must be focused on sustainability.  Students have access to sustainability-related texts to assist with this science planning assignment, including One well: The story of water on earth, Watersheds: A practical handbook for healthy water, and Watershed dynamics. Each student engages with sustainability topics beyond the scope of their lesson plan by commenting and providing suggestions on others’ work; writes a detailed self-reflection of the lesson; and elicits their pupils’ interest and knowledge in the sustainability topic.  All of these activities serve to enhance future educators’ knowledge and awareness of sustainability issues, which they can impart to their students in the future.

Social Science

  • ECON 390: Latin American Economic Development

Latin American Economic Development focuses on issues related to economic development in Latin America, particularly why countries develop faster than others and how countries can attain growth rates and social conditions that significantly improve people’s lives. The course covers topics of development, economic history, international financial institutions, trade and market liberalization, privatization, and social and economic issues.  C. Capra realized in the course of the workshop that the environment is intertwined with everything I teach.  Discussing it separately, isolated from other topics, is simply not right.  Thus, instead of introducing a “separate” section on the environment, I have decided to add readings in “all” of the sections that I cover.

In lieu of introducing a new unit, Capra uses sustainability issues to illustrate many of the topics related to economic development in Latin America.  In addition to readings on toher topics, students read about the connection between development and sustainability, how privatization impacts water supplies and sewage systems, the impact of trade liberalization on the environment, the environmental costs of poverty, and environmental degradation due to conflict.  The readings, lecture material, and class discussions allow students to make strong connections between the economic and policy concepts and a variety of sustainability topics  spanning social, environmental, and economic issues.