Example Workshop for Cross-campus Environmental and Sustainability Programs

Environmental and sustainability programs vary considerably in structure from cross-campus programs, with very few if any core faculty, to degree-granting departments. They vary in emphasis including natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and environmental management. They share a common goal of using interdisciplinary approaches to prepare students to be problem-solvers focused on sustainability. Because of the diversity of these academic programs, the workshop menu includes a variety of options with some sessions being more focused on students and curriculum while others are more focused on program structure and relationships. Just as there is no "one-size fits all" approach for interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability programs, there is no "one size fits all" approach for these workshops. It is important that the workshop host work with the facilitators to explore the tool kit of tested workshop elements to determine an optimal agenda.

2-Day Workshop Program

This workshop uses the "Understanding by Design" approach advocated by Wiggins and McTighe (2005). "Backward design" allows faculty to begin to define the knowledge, skills and personal attributes that contribute to students' professional development as they prepare for the workforce or graduate school.

The agenda is divided into 4 sessions. These sessions do not need to be of equal length. Facilitators and hosts should determine which of the activities to do, ensuring sufficient time for action planning.


Preparation for workshop participants

  • Review your program's core and founding documents, policies, and procedures. These documents will provide high level guidance about priorities, expectations and values for your program. In addition, consider:
    • the cultural and geographic setting of your institution;
    • professional strengths and interests of the existing faculty and staff (and plans for future growth of the program personnel);
    • program and institutional facilities and equipment;
    • opportunities for collaboration across campus, with government agencies, and with the community;
    • the need to optimize resources available - faculty assignments, reduce redundancies, and realize economies of scale;
    • service to stakeholders

Options for homework activities, depending on the emphasis of the workshop

  • Complete the "ideal student" exercise.
  • Write a 1-2 page vision statement for your department or program: Given the many inputs into your program ecosystem, where would you like to see your program in 10 years given opportunities and constraints of staffing, location, institutional resources, etc.?
  • Create a list of people who value your program. Make a list of all the people, groups, associations, etc. with whom the program works or might work with and who would value the program. Who needs what you do? These can include students, departments, other programs, stakeholders, administrators, among many others. List anyone who you think values or ought to value the program. Create a map of the relationships between these people and with your program.
  • Read the essay on future of students and your program

Higher education is undergoing an accelerating transformation driven by financing and student demography. Although considered by most to be part of the Public Trust, public colleges and universities are no longer funded as such. As budgets have become tighter, many states are experiencing a decline in available students. Although the challenges facing students today include traditional concerns such as preparing for a career and learning and getting good grades, over recent decades these changes have influenced the character and viability of the college experience. Career pathways have become more diverse and confusing.

In 2017, for the first time most public institutions received most of their revenue from tuition rather than government appropriations. Programing and viability of public institutions are increasingly driven by the financial concerns of corporations and donors, the value of intellectual property, and the management of investments. As universities have adopted corporate management styles, students, faculty, and divisions within the university are managed as financial assets or liabilities. An incoming class may be evaluated in terms of its ability pay full tuition, while faculty are evaluated in terms of grant support with indirect costs and the prestige of published scholarship. Because of the decline in public support, many students are forced to acquire substantial debt at near-commercial interest rates to finance their education. Parents, students, and their state legislators are demanding accountability.

The student body has become more diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, country of origin, age and prior experience. This trend is accelerating. By 2025, students of color will comprise a majority of high school graduates and soon after 2030 they will be the majority on many college campuses (National Center for Educational Statistics, April 2018). Students of color are more likely to be first-generation matriculates and come from families with limited means. Effective recruitment of these students will require fundamental changes to the financing of higher education.

The compelling emphasis on environmental and social issues, in the context of sustainability, creates new opportunities for programs and their students. The majority of the over 2000 interdisciplinary environmental programs have been created within the previous 30 years. There has been a flourishing of new majors and sub-degree programs, but the pathway between campus and career is far from straightforward. Climate and biosphere disruptions have made it urgent that higher education produce practitioners able to integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines and understand tradeoffs among solutions. Students with these skills must also have the ability for critical thinking and normative competency, and superior verbal, written, media, quantitative, and information literacy.

While academic institutions continue to be organized in linear hierarchical structures, with departments the core unit, students, society and in some cases university leadership are increasingly demanding cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary and other boundary-spanning approaches. Highly productive collaborations are possible among the physical, natural, and social sciences, and the arts and humanities have been recognized as foundational for effective environmental programming. In some cases, external stakeholders (parents, communities, businesses, political bodies and others) are looking for increased involvement in higher education. Financial, institutional and other constraints on programs and faculty, coupled with the demands for immediate responses in the age of instant telecommunications, leads to more stress and less time for everyone.

  • What are the priorities for your program?
  • How can the program ensure the success of all students in the context of these profound changes?
  • How can your program thrive among other programs competing for scarce resources?
Stephen Mulkey, President Emeritus, Unity College
  • Review reports on interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability curriculum and administrative structure from the National Council for Science and the Environment.
  • Vincent S et al., (2014) Interdisciplinary Environmental and Sustainability Education and Research: Leadership and Administrative Structures, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington, DC

  • Vincent S et al., (2014) Interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability education and research: institutes and centers at research universities. National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington, DC

  • Vincent S, Bunn S, Sloane L (2013) Interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability education on the nation's campuses 2012: curriculum design. National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington, DC

  • Vincent S et al. (2017) Scope of Interdisciplinary Environmental, Sustainability and Energy Baccalaureate and Graduate Education in the US

  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln - Environmental Studies Program: Comparison with Big Ten Institutions - A report prepared by: Dr. Shirley Vincent, National Council for Science and the Environment

Additional meetings for facilitators

  • Facilitators meet with the Dean/Provost (this is best done before the workshop - either the afternoon before or first thing in the morning on day 1 of the workshop).
  • Facilitators meet with students in the program (no faculty present to enable an open discussion) - this is best done over lunch on the first day.

Session I: Envisioning Your Program

How does your program fit into the world and work your students will experience? This activity will help foresee the kinds of knowledge and skills future graduates will need and how your program will contribute to filling this need. This core session will produce a set of touchstone ideas that will guide later sessions.

Session Goals

  • Build a program team
  • Develop a coherent articulated program where success depends on everyone's engagement
  • Think beyond the problems at hand

Introductions (15 min)

  • Overview purpose of the workshop
  • Participant and Facilitator Introductions
  • Rules of engagement
Discussion of ideal student (1 hour)
  • Activity: Know Your Students, Identifying Skills, Experiences, Content, and Values: What do you want your students to know and be able to do? Participants will develop a list of goals for their students, first individually and then collectively. The session will produce a set of measurable and assessable program-level learning outcomes.
Activity (40 minutes)
  • Discussion of ideal student
    • Using their response to the survey, participants spend 5-10 minutes individually writing out on individual post-it notes what they consider to be the most important skills and experiences (e.g. quantitative skills, experience with social science methodology, research experiences etc.) of their intended graduates. Put one item on each sticky note. Everyone then puts their notes onto a board and the group organizes the whole set into clumps. It is expected that individual participants will have differing emphasis on key attributes. Synthesizing what these clumps have in common point the way to "goal-like objects" (GLOs). Also, synthesizing what these clumps have in common will lead to proposing program-level mechanisms to move all students towards success. This list will also be used when exploring the curricular matrix. Participants could compare with results of surveys of interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability program leaders (S. Vincent 2013, NCSE report).
  • Record the list of GLOs on the Session Work Page. You may want to also record the kinds of more granular goals that are included and how to tell whether or not students achieve them.
    • Participants should focus on how the program needs to support students, as well as thinking about the strengths that the students bring, even when they don't align with assumptions about what strong students look like).

Wrap-up (20 minutes): What has this discussion told us about shared goals and vision for the program among the faculty members? What are the areas where more discussion of diverse ideas is needed? [We will continue to revisit these points in the next discussion and also schedule some of that discussion later today and tomorrow].

Visions for your Environmental or Sustainability Program (1 hour)
  • Activity: Present your vision for the program to another faculty member (working in groups of two). Do this as a role play where one person takes the role of a faculty member and the other plays a prospective student, parent, or administrator. Switch roles. After both people have presented their visions, identify common ideas and well as differences. Discuss what the thought exercise implies about strategic foci for your program in the next 10 years. Record your most important/key ideas for presentation to the group. As a group discuss the various visions and determine the degree to which a common vision exists among the faculty members.

Convene as a whole group and present key ideas using a round robin format. Each small group presents one idea from its list at a time (avoiding duplication). These are written out on a board or a screen and recorded in the workspace. Discussion continues until all ideas and questions are recorded. Briefly discuss each item.

Once all ideas are on the table, the whole group produces a consensus list of key ideas or strategic foci that are touchstones for the rest of the workshop. Record in the workspace. This process identifies areas of consensus and divergence about the program as a whole and should help identify and articulate program outcomes.

  • Record the list of ideas as well as the consensus list
Value Mapping: Who Values Your Program (Modified from Democracy for America, Campaign Academy Grassroots Campaign Training Manual, 2009.) (1 hour)
  • Activity: Based on the pre-workshop discussion of value the program developed in the pre-workshop survey. Make a list of all the people, groups, associations, etc. with whom the program works or might work with and who would value the program. Who needs what you do? These can include students, departments, other programs, stakeholders, administrators, among many others. List anyone who you think values or ought to value the program.

Step 1. Working in pairs - Begin with your list of those who value the program developed in the pre-workshop survey. Make a list of all the people, groups, associations, etc. with whom the program works or might work with and who would value the program. Who needs what you do? These can include students, departments, other programs, stakeholders, administrators, among many others. List anyone who you think values or ought to value the program.

  • Think big - The program is a great opportunity for the college and your community.
  • Be strategic – Administrators are easy to map. Look at all the donors and constituency groups who the program might interact with in the future. Consider new groups that may not be currently connected with the college.
  • Be thorough
  • Be creative – There are no wrong answers. Everything is in play. Spend some time thinking about your program from every different angle.

Step 2. Map Relationships to your Program.

  • Once you are satisfied with your list, start thinking about the extent to which these people and institutions are or could be connected to your program. Create a map of these connections (with the program in the center) and draw lines connecting them to the program. It may be helpful to label the connection lines with the types of benefits each group may value and some indication of how/when those benefits happen.
  • A good value map will have major influences mapped out, outlining multiple degrees of separation.

Step 3. Map Relationships among connections.

  • Take a step back and review the map of the networks you've created. Some of these people and institutions not only connect to your program, but also connect to each other. You should map these connections.

Step 4. Target Priority Relationships.

  • Now analyze the connections and make some decisions. Circle the people/groups that you feel are most important to the program to ensure that it will be valued. Don't worry if it gets a little messy. Identify those you feel you would like to have value it more. Also, step back and think about what relationships are NOT on the map, but should be. Add any other important relationships to the map. Upload your diagram (you may want to photograph it and save as a file) so that it can be shared with others.
  • Reconvene and present your value maps. Connect your maps – identify overlaps in terms of: program participation; participating units and people; Who will the program serve? Who are its partners and supporters? What is its geographic scope? How will it add values for the college as a whole and other programmatic units?
  • Discuss similarities and differences in the maps. Identify priority groups and individuals to build relationships.
Power Mapping (30 min)
  • Activity: Map the formal process of decision making about your program within your institution (Dean, Vice-Presidents, Provost, President etc). Now map the informal process of influences and individuals that demonstrate how decisions are actually made. Using the value map, choose one individual that the program wants to influence. Using the formal and informal maps, discuss how to use formal and informal relationships and consider strategies for influencing that individual.

Power Map Resource: http://www.results.org/uploads/files/bonnner_powermapping.pdf

Session II: Building a Thriving and Valued Program (a.k.a. Thriving in the Swamp)

Thriving programs are valued by their institution, take charge of their own destiny, and manage change creatively and willingly. In this session the program will identify actions that can enhance the value of the program within the institution in the context of what is known about thriving programs. The group will practice and develop messaging for explaining the value of a cross-camps environmental program and will create an action plan that helps address challenges specific to such programs.

Learn more on this topic: Defining Strong Departments

Session Goals

  • The program will develops ideas/plans for enhancing its value within the institution.
  • Participants will practice articulating the value of the program to different audiences
  • Participants will discuss the challenges inherent to cross-campus environmental programs develop action plans to address the most important of these.
Characteristics of Strong Programs and Challenges of Interdisciplinary Programs (1 hour)
    • As a group identify and discuss unique characteristics and challenges of interdisciplinary programs (in general - not necessarily only your program) and strategies to thrive as an interdisciplinary program. Create a list and discuss.
    • After having generated your list, compare with the provided list of challenges
    • Discuss ideas from Becoming a Valued Member of Your Institution. Which of these are we already doing. How can these ideas apply to our cross-campus program? How can they be enhanced?
SWOT Analysis (1 hour)
  • Activity: The facilitators will lead the group through a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis in the context of current challenges and the future envisioned in the previous activity.
    • What are the SWOT for the ENST program? Each person should write out their own lists on sticky notes (1 issue per note) and place the notes on the appropriate piece of flip chart paper. The participants will then rearrange the notes to show clusters of ideas and then walk around the room (gallery walk) and discuss the SWOT. (This session should include identifying and discussing the "place-based" assets, opportunities and experiences available for the program, such as community partnerships, and other natural and social resources, etc.)
    • What are program-level areas of emphasis and goal-like objects (GLOs) that become apparent as a result of the SWOT?
    • Record results of SWOT analysis on the Session Work Page
Strategic Foci for Action Planning (1 hour)
A primary outcome of the workshop will be an action plan for the program developed by the group through the workshop activities. The first section of this plan presents the strategic foci for the plan.
  • Activity: Think about the opening workshop activities as well as the reasons for requesting this workshop, then convert the list of key ideas into a final list of strategic foci for departmental action and record in the first section of the Action Plan.

Session III: Program Design

Program faculty agree that graduates should leave having learned something. This learning might include content knowledge, specific skills like map making or environmental assessment, general skills like problem solving, teamwork or communication skills, and professional ethics and values. Articulating a consensus about what students will know and be able to do when they leave a program guides the program in developing its programming and evaluating its success. Program Level Learning Outcomes (PLLOs) are a powerful guide in designing what your graduates should know and be able to do.'

There are numerous resources that provide an intellectual foundation for designing programs that maximize student learning. These include foundational studies in how students learn (Research on Teaching and Learning), hierarchies of learning complexity (Bloom's Taxonomy), recent research on how students learn within the context of disciplines (Discipline-Based Educational Research) and suggestions on implementing Program Level Learning Outcomes (Implementing PLLOs).

This session will guide you through a strategy for articulating a specific list of student learning outcomes. We will then use a matrix based approach to map how the goals are currently addressed and demonstrate how this map can be used to strengthen program design, design program evaluation, or test hypotheses about student experiences. This planning is conceived in the framework of helping all students thrive throughout your curriculum.

Session Goals

  • Introduce backwards design, matrix documentation and assessment as tools for designing programming
  • Establish alignment among program goals, programming and assessments
  • Introduce whole student model as framework for design of student experience
  • Establish program elements that can be tuned to goals as combination of courses, co-curricular activities, mentoring, and advising

Identifying Skills, Experiences, Content, and Values: What do you want your students to be able to do? Participants will develop a list of goals for their students, first individually and then collectively. The session will produce a set of measurable and assessable program-level learning outcomes. (1.5 hours)

  • Activity: Participants spend 5-10 minutes individually writing out goals for their students on individual post-it notes. What should they be able to do when they graduate? Then everyone puts their notes onto a board and the group organizes the whole set into clumps. Synthesizing what these clumps have in common point the way to "goal-like objects" (GLOs).
  • Activity: Discuss the suite of GLOs in the context of the Envisioning and SWOT activities from the opening session.
    • Do they reflect the program's context and strategic foci?
    • Do they collectively serve the range of students that you serve today and into the future?
    • Are you happy with these GLOs or is additional work or discussion needed?
  • Activity: Are administrative structures serving the needs of the program? Participants review extant models. Participants use provided resources to summarize attributes, advantages and disadvantages of these models. Present them in gallery walk.
  • Return to the Action Plan and record any future actions that are needed.

Program Matrices: How do students meet the program goals? Building a program matrix can help the department visualize where students are or could be building their knowledge, skills, and values (1 hour).

  • Introduce an example: Matrix Approaches to Program and Curriculum Design
  • Activity: Starting with the Blank Matrix Template, the new list of GLOs, and the list of curricular and co-curricular activities generated as homework, participants construct the X and Y axes of their Program Matrix. Then they pick at least one of their GLOs and complete, at minimum, one row of the Matrix, isolating where and to what degree different program elements present students with the opportunity to gain mastery as well as where and how their progress is assessed. Upload file to the Session Work Page.
  • Discussion: Record notes on the Session Work Page
    • How does the program use both curricular and co-curricular opportunities to address the goal?
    • What type of things make sense on the x axis (e.g. electives?)
    • What is the right granularity and number of GLOs?
    • How do we use the Matrix approach to reach the goals that we've set for the program?

Using the Matrix: The program matrix is a powerful tool for asking questions about where students are getting the important experiences we want for them as well as for hypothesis testing when student outcomes are not what we anticipate. This process is analogous to what scientists do all the time - generate a hypothesis, test it, and then using that information to feed back into the next round of hypothesis generation. (1 hour)

  • Activity: Generating Hypotheses About Student Learning. In small groups, use the matrix that you have developed so far to consider for one GLO:
  • Reflecting on the variety of ways in which students move through the program, do the offerings give appropriate scaffolding to the development of knowledge, skills and values that support mastery of the goal?
  • What mentoring, advising or other supports are needed to ensure that all students can access the learning opportunities?
  • How would you know if the program was succeeding in supporting students to meet the GLO?
  • What evidence do you currently have that students are meeting all or some of this goal?
  • Do you have hypotheses as to why some or all students fail to meet the GLO?
  • What would you recommend to strengthen the program in this area? This could include
    • revising or sharpening the GLO
    • changing the program
    • changing the support structure
    • Keep in mind that you would like to maximize work, do things that can be accomplished, minimize work, and promote significant synergistic effects
  • Report and Discussion: Return to the whole group and present 1 strategic recommendation per group. Discuss lessons learned through this process. Return to the action plan and record any needed actions that follow from this exercise.
  • Closing thoughts: Reflect on the program design session as a whole. What have you learned about the process? about your program? Are there additional ideas that need to be recorded? Actions for the action plan?

Assessment and Closing the Loop: Making the leap from a "goal-like-object" to an assessable program outcome (1 hour).

  • Discussion: Open a discussion of program assessment and the needs of the program – both internal needs for formative feedback and institutional needs for accreditation or reporting.
  • Activity:
    • Develop an example of a program level assessment that will help your department understand and improve its ability to address a strategic priority.
    • Use the matrix to identify the assessment points for that goal, using it to find mismatches between outcomes and that goal.
    • discuss appropriate assessment ideas and introduce resources on assessment
    • develop an appropriate assessment
    • discuss potential results from the assessment and what actions they would prompt
  • Reflect on discussion: What further action is needed regarding assessment, evaluation and closing the loop to meet your strategic priorities? Record action items in the action plan.

Optional Session: Preparing Students for Careers From Day One (1 hour)

How can you best help your students prepare for careers and/or graduate school in and beyond your curriculum? Participants will leave the session with a plan for integrating students' development as self-directed environmental/sustainability professionals into their program. Using a four-stage model (below), this session explores ways to obtain feedback about career preparation from employers and graduates that can be used to develop more effective curriculum and program activities to prepare students better for employment opportunities. In addition, we will identify sources outside your department that can be used in the workforce preparation process. Finally, participants will determine methods to assess any changes they plan to implement to help prepare students for the workforce.

  1. Knowledge of Careers and Career Paths - Building knowledge of careers begins in introductory courses and extends throughout the curricula. Awareness is built via images of a variety of careers incorporated in class presentations and students are familiarized with various resources.
  2. Exploration of Careers in more detail - Students build a more in-depth knowledge of careers that interest them by means of informational interviews, externships, shadowing programs, alumni panel discussions and conversations with individual alumni.
  3. Developing Skills Employers Want - Throughout their undergraduate years, students build skills that employers desire (e.g., communication, team work, professionalism, professional ethics, etc.). Skills and experiences are developed in courses, co-curricular experiences, internships, teaching experiences (e.g., TA, outreach, tutoring), research experiences and relevant summer jobs. Many students will go onto roles where they interface with the public and decision makers from other disciplines. Where will they receive training to handle issues that require listening and perspective taking? Will they receive training that helps them understand worldview and cultural perspectives on issues?
  4. Helping Students with the Job Search Process - Faculty assist students in the job search by building skills, critiquing resumes, accessing alumni connections, and recommending informational interviews as well as optimal utilization of the college's Career Center.
Learn more on this topic: Strengthen Workforce Preparation in your Program

Session IV: Action Planning and Program Management

Creating an action plan to guide the work of the program going forward is a primary outcome of each workshop. Each session will have contributed something to the action plan - strategic priorities for change, the context in which that change will occur, as well as actions that the program will take to address challenges the group has articulated. The action plan will also include guidelines for determining when your program has met your goals.

Session Goals

  • Complete, Review, and Revise the Action Plan that has been developed over the course of the workshop.
  • Complete a timeline for one or more specific proposed action(s).

Complete Action Plan: prioritize action items, assign a point person or team, and determine a schedule for completion (at least 3 hours)

Goal of Action Teams: Develop a plan of specific actions for the priority strategic foci that can be implemented and assessed over time.

Develop Action Teams

  • Assign Action Teams to the Highest Priority Items
  • Review resource materials developed so far - reflections on vision; value maps; SWOT analysis, Power Maps, Structural Models; and Strategic Foci
  • Create Action Items
  • Prioritize Action Items – Use Passion Points

Clearly define each action item

  • Create plan to address action item
    • What needs to be done
    • By whom
    • Timeline
    • Resources needed
    • Potential challenges/barriers
    • How will success be measured? Benchmarks?
Action Plan Review Guidelines – Does your plan address these questions?
  • Is it clear what the action plan seeks to address?
  • Do you understand the desired result?
  • Is the action plan realistic and feasible in the context of the program and the college?
  • Are the primary challenges to implementing the plan identified?
  • Does the plan make effective and appropriate use of available resources?
  • Is there a plan for monitoring progress and making appropriate adjustments?
  • What further action is needed regarding assessment, evaluation and closing the loop to meet your strategic priorities.
Walk through for a single task in the action plan
  • Start with a single high priority task. Consider the details for implementing the plan. Identify the individual steps:
    • the required committees and individuals,
    • identify and determine how to commit the resources necessary to complete the task (faculty and staff time, seed money, space etc.)
    • the forms and paperwork necessary,
    • responsible party for each step,
    • intermediate benchmarks
    • what constitutes success/completion of the task

Discuss management strategies: how to self monitor and motivate progress; role/modification of action plan as actions unfold (30 min)

  • Maintaining enthusiasm and momentum
  • Carving time for action priorities out of busy schedules
  • Case study
Reflect on process and its outcomes: What lessons have you learned for working as a departmental team? (30 minutes)
  • Individual reflection on process and its outcomes: What did you learn?
  • Voluntary sharing and discussion

Workshop Wrap-Up: (30 min)