Faculty and students from several majors created a course that focuses on sustainability.
By David Irwin
Lara Mangino ’21 was part of a team of faculty and fellow students last year who developed the Geneseo Green Quotient, an innovative course that draws on multiple disciplines. Until then, she had never connected humanities with sustainability.
“It was very eye-opening,” said Mangino.
Mangino, an English and political science major, is among several students who joined faculty members in an integrative learning community to create the course. Instead of presenting sustainability as a stand-alone topic, the course fuses environmental impact, stewardship and other sustainability concepts into learning modules from six disciplines — geology, geography, biology, Native American studies, political science and humanities.
Forty first-year students in Tesla House are taking the course this fall. Tesla House is the living-learning community in Monroe Hall for students considering majors in physics, geology or education. It’s among 12 such communities on campus composed of students with similar academic interests and mutual out-of-classroom experiences. Other communities focus on the arts, global citizenship and service and more.
The Geneseo Green Quotient is an example of how Geneseo is constructing courses to fit student interests. It combines online learning and writing plus field work, such as walking tours to identify markers of indigenous peoples on campus including plaques, flags, murals and photographs. They will also develop their own projects.
“We’ve structured the course to be applicable to all parts of life,” said Ken Cooper, associate professor of English and course coordinator. “It was the powerful idea of home that helped dictate course development, and all modules touch at least briefly on something connected to Geneseo. We hope it will motivate students into a personal discovery of sustainability.”
Cooper says students call many places home across New York state but also have meaningful online “homes.”
“It’s important that students begin their Geneseo education on campus,” said Cooper. “We also want them to recognize that even their online ‘home’ participates in an ecology — through the supply of electricity to the campus, for example.
Sustainability, in this case, means questioning the idea of knowledge as downloadable information and instead developing ways to actively connect your virtual and actual life through hands-on experiences.”
The course emerged from the College’s President’s Commission on Sustainability. Funding came from Jack ’76 and Carol ’76 Kramer through their endowment of the Center for Integrative Learning to enhance the quality of the educational experience.
Cooper said all of the seven students who worked on course development showed a strong talent for collaboration and the ability to work across disciplinary lines.
“Student collaborators applied their belief that learning goes beyond an exam or assignment,” said Cooper.
Jane Auld ’19, an anthropology major, said helping to design the course, including budgeting and planning, “was very enlightening.” The Green Quotient is among a growing number of multidisciplinary courses at Geneseo. Last spring, artist Steve Prince helped teach and create community-based art in a course in collaboration with faculty from eight academic and administrative departments.
Mangino and two other student collaborators are teaching assistants for the course this fall. The teaching assistants are embedded in Tesla House, providing close attention to the first-year students taking the course to help keep them on task.
Mangino’s focus is the humanities module, which primarily addresses humans’ relationship to the land and the emotional impact of a changing environment.
“We’re writing about our connection to nature and how we feel about it,” she said. “For example, we want to get across the feeling that it’s not just the planet that’s warming but it’s my planet that’s warming. This interdisciplinary approach really encompasses the essence of a liberal arts education.”