[EAS] Greening in Academia
Peter J. Kindlmann
pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Jun 18 00:15:17 EDT 2007
Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2007 08:44:40 -0700
From: Rick Reis <reis at stanford.edu>
Subject: TP Msg. #804 Live Green or Die - Can Engineering Schools "go
green" Fast Enough to Save Our Planet?
To: tomorrows-professor at lists.stanford.edu
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The posting below looks at the growth of multidisciplinary
sustainability programs on college campuses. It is by Jo Ellen
Meyers Sharp a freelance writer based in Indianapolis and is from the
April 2007, Volume 16, No. 8. <http://www.asee.org/prism/>. ?
Copyright 2007 American Society for Engineering Education, 1818 N
Street, N.W., Suite 600 Washington, DC 20036-2479. All rights
reserved. Reprinted with permission.
reis at stanford.edu
Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
------------------------------------------ 1,508 words
Live Green or Die - Can Engineering Schools "go green" Fast
Enough to Save Our Planet?
Sustainable: (adj.) using resources so they are not depleted or
Growing up in Oregon, Brianna Dorie never cared about eco-buzzwords.
But she did treasure the environment-to the point it determined her
career path. "I actually decided to become an environmental engineer
after learning about the hole in the ozone layer as a kid," recalls
Dorie, now a first-year doctoral student in environmental engineering
at Purdue University, where she's researching the public-health
impact of fire retardants in electronics and other products. "I
thought at an early age that it could be fixed."
Dorie, a University of Portland civil engineering graduate with a
master's in environmental engineering from the University of Arizona,
is among a new generation of students eager to protect the planet.
Their favored tool: green engineering. The eco-friendly focus has
prompted the nation's engineering schools to examine their offerings
and rethink overall educational philosophies to give conservation and
sustainability the high priority the public and industry now demand.
Purdue's College of Engineering is a leader in revamping the
curriculum to emphasize environmental considerations across
disciplines. The goal is to infuse sustainability principles
throughout courses and projects. Purdue's dean, Leah H. Jamieson,
Ransburg Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, sees the
new eco-focus as "an opportunity for engineering and science to be
perceived as a profession that is very squarely in the realm of
societal responsibility and meeting global challenges." Engineers
have enhanced life with sewer systems and power grids. Now,
"sustainability is part of the global discussion," notes Jamieson.
Such "grand challenges for humanity" help draw students like Dorie to
engineering. Her research, for instance, focuses on public policy and
the life cycle of brominated flame retardants, ubiquitous organic
compounds that prevent pajamas, electronics and other items from
catching fire. Elevated levels have been found in mammals, raising
concerns about their toxicological effects. Some countries and states
have banned their use. By analyzing the environmental impact of these
"micropollutants" from manufacture through use, recycling and
disposal, Dorie hopes to discover ways to reduce their potential harm.
Every year, Jamieson encounters students like Dorie who "want to
improve the world." Many once hesitated to speak up for fear of
ridicule. Today's campus, says Jamieson, is far more welcoming.
Revamped, multidisciplinary courses have made students more aware of
the role their work can play in tackling global problems. At Purdue's
Global Sustainable Industrial Systems research center, for instance,
projects include analyzing the ecological impact of everything from
manufacturing to political processes.
"There's a real climate of collaboration right now," says Jamieson,
who cites such factors as the increase in public interest, industry's
need to meet environmental regulations and concerns over the
availability and cost of oil and gas. Biofuels research is a prime
example of this growing cooperation. It not only brings together such
diverse disciplines as agricultural science, chemistry and
engineering, but government and industry as well.
To foster collaboration and spur more engineering schools to address
environmental issues, the National Science Foundation and the
Environmental Protection Agency have funded research to develop
benchmarks, methods and other best practices related to teaching
sustainability. A $2 million federal grant, for example, supported
the development of Carnegie Mellon University's new Center for
Sustainable Engineering (CSE)-a partnership with the University of
Texas at Austin and Arizona State University. The goal: help future
engineers preserve scarce resources through faculty workshops,
peer-reviewed educational materials and benchmarks to identify
high-quality course content at the nation's 1,500 engineering
"We are looking at all sustainable engineering programs to see what's
out there, which schools have them and to determine best practices,"
explains Carnegie Mellon civil and environmental engineering
professor Cliff Davidson, CSE co-principal investigator. Engineers
can no longer ignore arenas beyond their specialty, he says. Thus,
CSE's partner institutions push students and faculty to develop
solutions across traditional department lines. For example, Carnegie
Mellon recently established a program to work with local leaders and
businesses to restore abandoned industrial sites and other polluted
Part of the difficulty in promoting sustainable engineering, says CSE
co-principal investigator Braden Allenby, professor of civil and
environmental engineering and ethics at Arizona State's Ira A. Fulton
School of Engineering, is that it tends to invite platitudes rather
than practice. Federal grants, he says, will aid in "figuring out
ways to do better engineering now and to train our students to
consider the environmental and social implications of their actions."
Some students already are blazing the way. Carnegie Mellon doctoral
student Shahzeen Attari, who is pursuing dual degrees in engineering
and public policy and civil and environmental engineering, is typical
of these multidisciplined minds. The public knows "something is wrong
with the current system," Attari says. "The fact that we consume
resources without taking the impact into consideration, the mounting
effects of climate change and the fact we are no longer connected to
the land all start adding up and start people thinking." Attari seeks
to harness psychology to change behavior by creating messages,
procedures and incentives that communities could use to persuade
residents to reduce consumption of materials that emit carbon
dioxide. Some sustainability messages already are raising public
awareness, Attari notes, such as "buy local" and consume less.
"People like the freedom to choose their lifestyles, what they
consume and when they consume it," observes Attari. "However, the
environment is a 'commons' that we share with other citizens of the
world, and when individual choices start negatively impacting others,
we need to understand how to change or alter those behaviors."
Academia's increased focus on environmentalism spans the globe. The
Institution of Engineers Australia, the country's accrediting body
for engineering education, has taken the lead in addressing the
paucity of environmental content. It spearheaded the formation of a
nonprofit sustainability think-tank called the Natural Edge Project,
which pools research from myriad engineering-school and
environmental-group partners and posts relevant textbooks, scientific
papers and research on its Web site, www.naturaledgeproject.net/.
Recently, the organization began developing curricula with individual
Although Australia includes sustainability in its national
engineering graduate competency standards, the accrediting body found
little to support the concept in the classroom. "Anecdotal evidence
suggests strongly that the level of integration within Australian
universities is still marginal, even within the environmental
engineering degree programs, which have been traditionally observed
as the leaders in this area," says Natural Edge Project education
coordinator Cheryl Paten. She predicts demand for environmental
expertise is bound to surge as the region's population explodes.
"Australia has a significant opportunity to lead by example," she
believes, by providing engineering graduates "with the tools that can
really make a difference."
Closer to home, a dash of internationalism has made a big difference
for undergrads at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
For the past six years, groups have spent one week in Mannheim,
Germany, touring corporations and local government offices in a
three-credit course called GO GREEN. (The acronym stands for Green
Organizations: Global Responsibility for Economic and Environmental
Necessity.) Germany is a leader in sustainable development, and
students return from overseas-host partner Berufsakademie Mannheim is
a cooperative education university-with keener insights into the link
between concept and commerce.
Most important, the students get to observe sustainability principles
applied in daily life, from how employers conserve materials to "fair
trade" products at grocery stores. "Students see how Germans recycle
because it costs them money to throw things away," explains Patricia
Fox, associate dean for administration and finance and assistant
professor of organization leadership and supervision at the Purdue
School of Engineering and Technology on the Indianapolis campus.
"They come back asking 'Why aren't we doing this?' " Future engineers
aren't the only undergrads learning to GO GREEN; the program includes
majors in interior design, business, public and environmental
affairs, art and communications.
These summer trips have spawned student as well as faculty reports on
such topics as green roof designs, renewable energy, sustainable
adhesives and the differences between sustainability practices in
America and Europe. Several papers have been presented at the World
Business Council for Sustainable Development conferences in Geneva,
and at ASEE meetings.
Mechanical engineering student Michael Reed, a 2006 participant, says
the Mannheim experience changed his career path. "Before this trip, I
was certain that I wanted to use my degree for a career in
manufacturing," he reflects. Reed now aims "to make a difference" in
manufacturing. "I want to be one of the engineers who helps the
United States become sustainable, along with the rest of the world."
Overseas travel "has definitely had an impact on the way I perceive
life here in America and on the way I plan on conducting myself both
personally and professionally," concurs Alan Benedict, another
mechanical engineering student in the 2006 group. "I have never
really considered myself wasteful. However, I have always measured my
conduct against a very wasteful model. Now that I have been to
Germany, I see waste in the United States where I did not see it
before." Such revelations promise to transform engineering education
even as it propels students like Benedict and Dorie toward greener
frontiers, primed to protect Earth's future.
Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis.
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