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Skidmore College

Sustainability expands

February 1, 2013

Sustainability expands into the curriculum

Say the word sustainability on a college campus and most people will likely think of recycling, or composting, or compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Riley Neugebauer
Riley Neugebauer

Skidmore’s Sustainability Coordinator Riley Neugebauer wanted to see sustainability expand into the realm of curriculum and teaching, rather than finding application only in campus operations and facilities management. To help Skidmore faculty gauge the possibilities, she organized a two-day workshop for faculty last July. Fourteen faculty members took part, and for Shirley Smith, professor of Italian, the result was a class project with locally produced food, deliciously prepared.

For Neugebauer, the goal was to help faculty, and not just in the sciences, to develop ways of incorporating the topic into their disciplines and classrooms. Funded by a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation and modeled after programs such as Emory University’s Piedmont Project and Northern Arizona University’s Ponderosa Project the workshop featured Jack Byrne, director of sustainability integration at Middlebury College, along with Skidmore facilitators Karen Kellogg, associate dean for infrastructure, sustainability, and civic engagement; and Sheldon Solomon, professor of psychology.

Shirley Smith
Shirley Smith

Based on the feedback from attendees and from what she sees happening on campus, Neugebauer called the results “beyond what I would have expected. I did not realize how powerful it could be to create something for people across the disciplines.”

The workshop included a “sustainability tour” around campus, which was a recommendation from Byrne, who has implemented this as a part of the workshops at Middlebury.

The tour included the Skidmore garden, where Sondra Lipshutz ’13, Jennifer Garvin ’14, and Margot Reisner ’14 (the summer student staff in the Sustainable Skidmore office), showcased their efforts and discussed composting; a walk along the perimeter path; and a view from the catwalks of Arthur Zankel Music Center, to learn more about its geothermal heat/cooling system. “Many of the faculty participants were unaware of these aspects of campus life,” reported Neugebauer. Also impressive: Mark Miller, director of dining services, and his emphasis on locally and sustainably produced, nutritionally sound food. “He was great,” said Smith. She added, “It was terrific to hear Mike West, Paul Lundberg, and Dan Rodecker talk about our geothermal process.”

Monica Raveret Richter
Monica Raveret Richter

Monica Raveret Richter, associate professor of biology, said, “The workshop gave me a new perspective on sustainability—that of the design challenge that we must meet if our species is to persist on this planet for the long haul. The workshop also fostered connections with fellow faculty teaching about sustainability, and we have opened up our field trips and lectures by visiting speakers to faculty and students from other classes.”

It was just such a field trip— to the 3-Corner Field Sheep Farm in Shushan, N.Y.—that captivated Smith, who said, “It was the most wonderful day” of learning about farm operations and tasting cheese made from sheep’s milk.

Smith pursued the local food angle this fall with her second-semester Italian students. “The textbook has a chapter on ecology, which was a good starting point,” she said. And she encouraged the students to make a meal from local products—and to discuss their work in English and Italian. They purchased items at the Saratoga Farmers Market to make their own pesto, which they ate over pasta, accompanied by salad. Appetizers were locally made bread and cheeses. The meal was prepared in the Murray-Aikins Dining Hall test kitchen.

The workshop and last fall’s course experience with her students have given Smith a number of ideas for her freshman Scribner Seminar, “Food in Italian Literature,” which she will teach this coming fall.  She will again emphasize local products and the slow food movement.

The experience also helped Smith see that “sustainability is not scary, nor does it evoke a sense of doom.” Also, she said, “There’s more going on here than I knew—from good nutrition in the dining hall, to all the attention to sustainability details. I realized that Skidmore is much better at this than may be commonly known.”

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