Sustainability Studies Minor Coming This Fall

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A new minor is on its way to UC Santa Cruz to help students address and think critically about problems surrounding waste and energy. The sustainability studies minor will be offered starting in fall 2014.

The minor only has space for 30 students and was approved for a three-year pilot phase, running from 2014 to 2017. Ronnie Lipschutz started designing the minor in 2012, when he became provost of College Eight. He said the minor is an opportunity to teach students to be more flexible and adaptable to today’s rapidly changing economy.

He, alongside sustainability studies faculty instructor Karen Monsen, aims to utilize hands-on experience and undertake many research and service learning internships to encourage personal and collaborative projects.

“We’re doing so much work already on campus to work with sustainability projects such as energy and food waste,” Monsen said. “This minor will unite areas such as engineering, environmental studies and sociology to give students a holistic education on sustainability that will be on their diploma.”

Sustainable Engineering and Ecological Design (SEED) is a teaching and research group composed of faculty, graduate students and research staff in electrical engineering, environmental studies, politics and sociology — core subject matter for the sustainability studies minor. The minor is intentionally separate from environmental studies because the minor is designed for experiential learning.

“We’re trying to put more STEM into it, and trying to make it more hands-on and provide students with certain capabilities they could use if they wanted to go into specific professions,” Lipschutz said. “I’m building on notions of the green economy and green entrepreneurship, so it’s oriented in some ways to more modern professional tracks.”

Lipschutz said students can work on problem-solving projects ranging from solar energy to water irrigation. Monsen, who currently teaches a class called “Sustainability Engineering and Ecological Design,” said the class also addresses sustainability problems, but is technically an electric engineering course.

“It’s a very broad class that covers topics such as water, energy, food and transportation, and really teaches students how to think critically about sustainability and how we try to address problems,” Monsen said.

Fourth-year applied physics major David Shugar is one of the organizers for Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP), a UC program founded under the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC). Shugar said he heard a lot of interest for the minor from other students, and said he would have been involved in the program if it came to UCSC sooner.

The minor will expand the sociological approach of environmental studies, Shugar said, as sustainability studies incorporates electrical engineering and renewable energy classes to give a more hands-on methodology versus a theoretical one.

“This minor is attractive to a newer audience because the world is kind of entering this catastrophic time where resources are limited, there is climate change, ecological destruction, and so many other things,” Shugar said. “The only way to change it is through a new wave of students with a new thought process.”