Environmental sustainability courses encourage students to seek solutions
Tania Schusler, PhD, brings a wealth of experience in service-learning to her position as lecturer and Solutions to Environmental Problems (STEP) coordinator in the Institute for Environmental Sustainability. She has also written extensively about the intersection of positive youth development and environmental education and action, so she brings a deep understanding of the value of service-learning as an academic, civic and social development strategy. At Loyola she has facilitated service-learning experiences using placement and small group project models. Students have generated projects on Loyola’s campus as well as participated in the work of non-profit organizations around the city that focus on environmental sustainability.
Dr. Schusler has taught ENVS 283, a course designed for students to explore issues of environmental sustainability. She has structured the class to have students design projects on our campus as well as work with local community organizations. Among many other projects, students have collaborated to provide compost education on campus and restore and sustain native dune grass ecosystems adjacent to campus.
ENVS 350: Solutions to Environmental Problems (STEP) is an interdisciplinary course designed around principles of experiential learning (STEP: Food Systems) now taught by Dr. Schusler. She asks students to spend time together at the outset of the course brainstorming ideas for projects. Students form groups based on mutual interest and then conduct initial research about the problem. She advises students to push past symptoms of the problem and identify root causes and design projects accordingly based on this analysis. Students in STEP courses (Food, Water, Energy) have worked together to advocate for and enact the bottled water ban on campus, to generate biodiesel fuel from waste products, and to bring a farmer’s market to campus.
Schusler comes to service-learning in part because she hopes that students begin to see themselves as part of something bigger than themselves. She hopes that students come to experience and see the value of collective action as they learn how academic principles in her classroom can be translated directly into work with local organizations.
Both of these courses engage science and non-science majors in rigorous scientific inquiry. Schusler sees a real value in having students from multiple disciplines bring diverse perspectives to project identification, development, and evaluation as together they address critical questions of environmental sustainability. Through these engaged learning experiences, students are learning key professional and civic skills: persistence, networking, teamwork, data management, presentation abilities, and navigation through complex social-ecological systems. Her students can often be seen presenting to various audiences throughout the year as well as at the CEL’s signature event, the Undergraduate Research and Engagement Symposium (URES).