Systemwide Faculty Learning Community in Teaching Climate Change Wins National Award
August 08, 2023

Stanislaus State’s commitment to environmental education was acknowledged again, as it and five other California State University (CSU) campuses will receive a 2023 American Association of State College and Universities (AASCU) Excellence and Innovation Award for Sustainability and Sustainable Development for “Faculty Learning Community in Teaching Climate Change and Resilience.” 

The first Faculty Learning Community (FLC) offered across the 23-member CSU, “Teaching Climate Change and Resilience” was created by Chico State Geography and Planning Professor Mark Steman and was previously honored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). 

The AASCU Award will be presented in November at the organization’s annual conference in Chicago. Stan State will receive an engraved award or a $500 donation to the University in support of a scholarship fund or similar program. 

Facilitated by Steman and Chico State’s Director of Sustainability Cheri Chastain, Teaching Climate Change and Resilience held in spring 2022, drew 62 faculty members from 30 disciplines across six CSU campuses including Chico State, Stan State, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CSU Bakersfield, CSU San Marcos and CSU Monterey Bay. The seven 90-minute sessions inspired those attending to redesign more than 75 courses to include greater engagement of climate change and resilience. 

It helped focus Stan State Assistant Professor of Acting and Directing Carin Heidelbach as she completed the writing of “Hedda on Fire,” a contemporary version of Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler,” with Hedda as a climate scientist. The play, co-written by fellow Stan State alumna Jeanette Farr-Harkins, was performed in the University Mainstage Theatre last November.  

Heidelbach was one of 10 Stan State faculty funded by Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Rich Ogle to participate in the unique systemwide FLC. 

“This award is a wonderful acknowledgement of the work by Stan State faculty to help our students understand how sustainability issues and the climate crisis are applicable beyond science courses,” President Emerita Ellen Junn said of the award, which was announced Aug. 4. “Stan State always has been dedicated to sustainable practices, from relying on attractive campus water features to irrigate our landscape to removing plastic straws from our food services. The Faculty Learning Community that explores ways to include sustainability and climate change throughout our curriculum is a fine example of our faculty working together for the benefit of their students, the campus, and the broader community.” 

Stan State first offered a campus FLC on sustainability in 2019 with then-Sustainability Coordinator Wendy Olmstead creating one at the urging of the University’s Council for Sustainable Futures

It, too, drew faculty members from a swath of disciplines, each finding a way to creatively incorporate sustainability into their curricula. 

Other CSUs offered similar FLCs, and during the 2020-21 academic year sustainability officers from across the CSU collaborated to sponsor educational and empowering events focused on climate justice, environmental racism and intersectional sustainability.  

During the fall 2020 semester, they hosted a multi-campus series, “Climate Justice = Social Justice: Conversations Exploring the Intersections of People, Planet & Power.” In the spring, they held CSU’s headline Earth Day event, “Taking Action for People and the Planet,” featuring four young climate justice activists, environmental educators and eco-communicators. 

That same spring of 2021, staff and faculty at Chico State and UC Santa Barbara collaborated on, and offered three times, a two-hour Zoom workshop on Climate Change and Resilience in the Classroom. The response was overwhelming and prodded Steman to make the approved Chico program in spring 2022 open to faculty at other CSU campuses. 

CSU Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester offered her congratulations and appreciation to the committed and forward-focused faculty and staff associated with the FLC.   

 “This innovative program across six CSU campuses is a powerful example of our faculty’s commitment to address the existential threat presented by climate change, and it is aligned with the CSU’s holistic efforts to incorporate sustainability throughout our curricula and every aspect of our operations,” Koester said.  

“Congratulations again to these remarkable faculty and staff members from Cal Poly Humboldt, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Chico State, CSU Monterey Bay, CSU San Marcos, Stanislaus State and the CSU Chancellor’s Office. Their work to educate and inspire future generations of climate champions will advance environmental justice and create a greener and more sustainable world for all of us.”