When she applied for the 2020 Annual Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Best Practice Awards, named by the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference, Stan State Sustainability Coordinator Wendy Olmstead wasn’t looking for glory.
Rather, she was hoping for an opportunity to present at the organization’s annual conference, to share the Stan State Sustainability/Campus as a Living Lab Faculty Learning Communities that she and Shradha Tibrewal, director, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, had started.
“I want to put Stan State on the map,” Olmstead said. “I’m not so much about receiving awards and getting praise; I’m about what they do, and what they do is open doors. They get people’s attention. It’s a great honor, but I’m more about how that award brings us a lot of publicity in terms of what we’re trying to do. So, I’m excited that we get the opportunity to present this Faculty Learning Community to all the other CSUs, UCs, private colleges and California Community Colleges.”
Olmstead and Tibrewal — who didn’t know Olmstead had applied for the award and was thrilled with the unexpected news — will share a virtual presentation with colleagues from across all California institutions of higher education, on how the teaching sustainability FLC is impacting Stan State.
To date, 31 professors representing 19 disciplines have participated in the FLCs, which began in spring 2019. They’ve introduced sustainability into courses ranging from art to criminal justice, from computer science to communications.
The FLCs were created through discussions with the Council for Sustainable Futures.
“One thing we wanted to do in order to make a difference on campus was to teach students — create sustainability citizens,” Olmstead said.
The response from faculty across majors and disciplines stunned Olmstead and Tibrewal.
“I wasn’t sure how faculty from every disciple could make this work,” said Tibrewal, who has facilitated countless other FLCs. “Some are from disciplines I wouldn’t have intuitively put with sustainability. For example, computer science. I didn’t see how that would work, but at the first meeting the professor started thinking about the recycling of computer parts. Those kinds of aha moments faculty have in these FLCs are different from those in other FLCs.
“Other FLCs are more about traditional pedagogy. These are different. What the faculty come up with amazes me every time.”
Olmstead, named director of sustainability last September, and Tibrewal have informally shared their passion for sustainability for seven or eight years. When Olmstead first began teaching as a lecturer, she “wanted to become a better teacher” and attended as many FLCs as she could. That’s how she met Tibrewal, who was the facilitator of the first FLC she attended.
The sustainability FLC grew from the premise of Stan State’s Council for Sustainable Futures that the subject needed to be incorporated more often into teaching, that students needed to better understand the issue. Hence, the sustainability FLC was put forward and Olmstead secured initial funding from an IDEAS grant and additional funding through the Provost’s Office.
Even last spring, when the semester was drastically altered by COVID-19 and faculty were forced to quickly alter the presentation of their courses, the sustainability FLC went on.
“We offered to pause it, to wait until fall, because at that time we didn’t think this would last that long,” Tibrewal said of the stay-at-home order. “But they wanted to keep going.”
The importance of including sustainability education through coursework was too great to pause the initiative, they said.
“This generation knows if we don’t pay attention to this there’s going to be no world left for them,” Tibrewal said. “That’s the thing about sustainability and social justice coming together in this beautiful amalgamation. There is no way forward if the next generation doesn’t see the significance. I think they get it better than we do.”
Olmstead agrees, pointing to the founding of the Eco-Warriors during the previous academic year.
She helped them with the administrative requirements, “but they formed the club on their own,” Olmstead said.
The lessons are growing as more faculty, partly through word of mouth, seek a spot in the sustainability FLC, that Olmstead and Tibrewal hope, will soon be offered at campuses across the state, and maybe, the country.