Central College News

Central College developing strategic vision for undergraduate sustainability education

February 26, 2014

Central College announced plans to develop and implement a strategy for sustainability education for the next decade. The goal is to accelerate the impact of deep, long-standing commitments to undergraduate sustainability education in an integrated manner.

Highlights of the plan include aggressive support for course development in sustainability; undergraduate research opportunities in sustainability; the development of a sustainable infrastructure to transform undergraduate sustainability education in order to meet Central’s educational goals for all students; and a focus on key components to reduce the college’s carbon footprint as both a responsibility and as a valuable educational tool for developing citizenship skills through an intentionally integrated partnership of all campus constituencies.

“Central College is eager to take the next steps in sustainability education, through an academic strategy developed by our faculty and leadership which will carry us through the next decade,” said Mark Putnam, Central’s president, who also serves on the executive committee of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Advisory Council. “Part of our strength in sustainability education is our excellence in STEM education and vice versa.”

Central is known for its commitment to sustainability education; global, experiential learning; internships; undergraduate and honors research; and community-based learning programs. Common throughout these commitments is an educational model that asserts the importance of experiential learning, coupled with classroom learning, as the ideal model for student success.

Central will further support course development in sustainability within the above parameters including experiential learning opportunities and faculty workshops, and it will continue to integrate sustainability into the fabric of the student experience. Currently, Central has a graduation requirement for all students in global sustainability, accomplished through a curriculum of 31 relative courses taught by 15 departments and programs across campus in an interdisciplinary manner. Central also offers an environmental studies major program and minors in global sustainability and global health. The most recent academic strategic plan embraces a developmental learning goal for all students “to learn and foster habits of sustainability” that is intentionally integrated across the campus, especially through a partnership between academic affairs and student development.

With strength in the STEM fields, Central is particularly committed to undergraduate research, pairing students and faculty both in and out of the classroom learning experience. Faculty research often includes a sustainability component and most of the sustainability research done at Central includes undergraduate collaborators. Student research projects related to sustainability span the disciplines of biology, chemistry, economics, English, environmental studies and political science. Students often travel to present research at regional and national conferences.

The college plans to hire a director of sustainability education and increase support for professional development. While sustainability efforts at Central have been ongoing and aggressive, coordination and focused direction offer opportunities for even greater successes in order to impact the community at-large in positive way.

And, as a signatory to the President’s Climate Commitment, Central has pledged to work toward climate neutrality by developing and working through a climate action plan. The college plans to conduct a campus-wide energy audit and purchase equipment to monitor energy use in buildings while linking the data to the curriculum. This infrastructure is beneficial both for educating students and modeling corporate citizenship for the community.

A sustainability leader in the Midwest for more than a decade, Central earned Iowa’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building rating, silver, by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2003 for the renovation of the Vermeer Science Center. The college earned a gold LEED rating in 2004 for McKee Residential Hall; a platinum LEED rating in 2010 for the Roe Center; and is committed to being an environmentally friendly campus, complete with an organic community garden, tray-free dining halls, active student groups and evolving sustainability initiatives.

In the past three years, Central has continued on its path to reduce, reuse, recycle and enhance sustainability efforts. Samplings of recent developments with educational emphases include: composting in the Central Market; a student-developed eco-tour of campus explaining many of the initiatives taken on by the college and providing information relative to processes, materials and plant species; and rain gardens in a major parking lot designed to accumulate and hold storm water runoff, then be treated and purified before discharging into the aquifers. Signage is intended to educate visitors and members of the community. The college also has increased its placement of native plants around campus.

The initiative is made possible, in part, by a grant from Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.