Sustainability class to commence next spring

A new “super course” will consist of several experts from different disciplines providing a well-rounded understanding of a broad topic called “sustainability.”The course takes a unique team-learning approach coupled with undergraduate research, said Keith Whitworth, professor of sociology.

Whitworth will utilize his new course model in “Sustainability is Sexy: Social Justice and Environmental Sustainability Across the Global Economy” this spring. The course is concerned with environmental stewardship, economic development and social justice issues, he said.

Experts in eight disciplines: anthropology, business, criminal justice, environmental science, history, interior design, political science and sociology, will provide insight into sustainability from their fields of study, Whitworth said.

“It is set up on a team-based learning approach where the students will be in teams all semester long and those teams range from six to eight students – research indicates it is very effective,” said Whitworth, who has been trying out the approach in two of his courses this semester.

The teams will each conduct research with the assistance of the National Wildlife Federation to determine the environmental impact of TCU’s campus. At the end of the semester the teams will present their findings at the Spring Undergraduate Research Festival, Whitworth said.

“What they’ll be doing is working on different components of a greenhouse gas emissions audit,” Whitworth said. “In other words, they will measure the environmental footprint of the university.”

Whitworth said he would like there to be four or five other super courses so students can have the option to minor in undergraduate research.

Sarah Warner, senior sociology major, has taken three courses with Whitworth and participated in his Purple Bike Program and said she would like to take the course next semester, however, she already understands the topic from her previous classes with Whitworth.

“I think his learning environment is really upbeat and positive, so anything you are learning, he’s going to make interesting,” Warner said. “He’s really passionate about sustainability and you can see that in his teaching and his everyday life.”

Whitworth said his 9-year-old son was the reason he became interested in sustainability. He said he wanted to expose students and the community to the concept and teach them how to use current resources so they are not compromised for future generations.

“If we don’t begin thinking about it seriously and making policies about climate change and other things like that then it may not bode well for my child’s and your child’s future,” Whitworth said.

Patrick Kinkade, chairman of the sociology department, said he supported the promotion of sustainability on campus and in the community, along with several other professors who he called the “greenies.”

“Obviously we are confronting a variety of crises in the environment and we, as a group of educators, need to think about what best serves our students in relation to getting them attuned to this issue,” Kinkade said.

Kinkade said eventually he would like a sustainability class to become a required course for all majors and would like to see a cultural change toward the way both the university and the larger community perceive environmental issues.

The course is listed under the sociology, anthropology and criminal justice majors.

Whitworth said another university came up with the phrase “sustainability is sexy” as an eye-catcher to raise awareness about the concept of sustainability. Although the phrase is not included in the registrar’s title for the course, he will use the buzzword when he refers to the three-hour course.