2 November 2018

SUNY New Paltz creates innovative training program on the fundamentals of sustainable development

The United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), as part of its continuous outreach efforts about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), shares this article written by Will Hong, Assistant Professor at the Department of Digital Media and Journalism, SUNY New Paltz (United States)

2 November 2018 - The State University of New York - SUNY New Paltz (United States), a member institution of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), launched an initiative entitled New Paltz Sustainability Faculty Learning Community (SFLC) which is a year-long workshop-based program that trains a small cohort of faculty members from across the disciplines in the fundamentals of sustainable development to provide them with up-to-date material that they can bring back to their classrooms. The program gives participants an opportunity to get to know colleagues from other departments and fields, and it encourages cross-disciplinary relationships that can result in collaborative scholarship and teaching.

The process to create the New Paltz SFLC started with establishing the objectives of the program: (a) Create a structured community of faculty and staff who are committed to infusing interdisciplinary approaches to environmental sustainability into the curriculum; (b) Starting with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a systems-thinking foundation, enhance the understanding of sustainable development concepts; (c) Explore teaching and course design strategies that engage students in sustainable development from a multidisciplinary and place-based approach; and, (d) Encourage and help fund curricular development without content prescription from above.

With respect to the fourth objective, the faculty participants must decide for themselves which components of sustainable development content are most applicable to their classes—no program organizers dictate specific content to be taught. The SFLC provides the training, support, and resources for the instructors to revise their courses as they, the teachers, ultimately see best. The structure of the New Paltz SFLC includes participation in faculty-led discussion workshops during the academic year (two each semester) and an intensive two-day training session during January, New Paltz’s winter break. The two-day retreat is actually the centerpiece of the whole program.

On day one, participants undergo formal training on education for sustainable development by an outside sustainability consultant during which they also have the chance to meet potential community partners from the town of New Paltz (who are invited to join the session). The faculty cohort then meets off-campus at Phillies Bridge Farm, a local institution and university partner, on the second day of the retreat to reflect on their training and to begin to think about revising their own classes. All fellows accepted into the program receive a nominal stipend and are expected to revise a current class or to develop a new one with special encouragement to create interdisciplinary team-taught courses. 

The last meeting of the year sees the participants present their plans for class revisions at a public event that is open to the entire university. Now in the third year of the New Paltz SFLC program, the results have been quite encouraging: 27 revised courses with a sustainability component or focus, including one new fully funded team-taught class entitled Gender, Development, and Justice; six proposed new sustainability-focused courses; and most fellows have reported increased understanding of sustainability practice and issues as well as increased motivation and ability to insert the SDGs and other sustainability content into their teaching plans.

The SFLC is a higher education program that can help us all move one step closer to a more forward-thinking curriculum and more well-informed students. The problems we face as a global community are not going away on their own, and we must ensure that our students, the leaders of the future, are prepared to take them on.