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2011 Summary Report

Cumberland Project May 9&10, 2011

On May 9th and 10th of 2011, American Studies and the Center for Teaching convened the inaugural Cumberland Project, a series of discussions among twelve faculty about multiple dimensions of sustainability in higher education.  The primary goal was to inform and support the development of a curriculum on sustainability at Vanderbilt, in order to help Vanderbilt students achieve a critical understanding of social-environmental issues and problems.  A secondary goal was to further develop a community of scholars among Vanderbilt faculty around inquiry into sustainability.

The twelve participating faculty represented seven different departments, including Civil and Environmental Engineering, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, English, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, Spanish and Portuguese, as well as the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, the Ingram Commons, and the Vanderbilt Initiative for Scholarship and Global Engagement (VISAGE).

The discussions were organized into four main areas: teaching sustainability, connecting to place, interdisciplinarity, and institutional transformation.  Within these areas, the participants had group discussions facilitated by AmericanStudies and Center for Teaching staff. They also heard from various presentations by resource faculty, including Vanderbilt’s Beth Conklin (Anthropology) on teaching socialdimensions of sustainability, Steve Baskauf (Biological Sciences) and the trees and ecology of the Vanderbilt campus, David Wood (Philosophy) on environmental art, and Jonathan Gilligan (Earth and Environmental Sciences) and Mike Vandenbergh (School of Law) on the promise of interdisciplinarity in sustainability education and research.  In addition, they heard presentations from a Vanderbilt student, Naveed Nanjee (’11), on student interest in a sustainability curriculum; the Director of Vanderbilt’s Sustainability and Environmental Management Office, Andrea George, on opportunities to incorporate campus sustainability issues into courses; and David Padgett, Associate Professor of Geography at Tennessee State University, onchallenges to sustainability and social equality in Nashville.  The two days also included time for individual and group reflection, as well as moments of experiential learning as the participants learned from each other about elements of the Vanderbilt campus and the Dyer Observatory.

The two days resulted in many fruitful discussions about such topics as:

  • The difficulties of defining and teaching complex issues of sustainability, especially the challenges of connecting social and ecological dimensions, and addressing ethically difficult questions, and attending to the negative affective elements of environmental problems
  • The many ways to connect with issues of sustainability in course projects
  • The potentials and challenges of place-based or community engagement pedagogies, including possible community partnerships,experiential learning opportunities on campus and in Nashville, in-class simulations of real-world problems, and increasing their own awareness of the city and bioregion
  • The many unique and complementary contributions our disciplines make to the study of sustainability
  • The need for and challenges of interdisciplinarity in sustainability education, including overcoming disciplinary languages and perspectives, and being courageous in developing“participatory fluency” with disciplines that are not one’s own
  • Visions for Vanderbilt sustainability initiatives and their integration into all of the university’s living and learning environments
  • Next steps for creating a more sustainable Vanderbilt by building on existing resources and further institutionalizingcritical thinking about sustainability

Participants also committed to various follow-up activities:

  • Developing courses with units or projects on sustainability
  • Embracing more interdisciplinary and experiential forms of teaching
  • Building community with one another through continued collaboration
  • Further discussion of sustainability education through a Cumberland Project Working Group that meets regularly in 2011-12
  • Incorporating sustainability into other areas of campus life
  • Helping Cumberland Project facilitators and participants develop further resources for effective sustainability education

The 2011 Cumberland Project was an inspiring two days that ended with a great promise of growth and development of sustainability education at Vanderbilt.  We look forward to facilitating this development over the following year and having an evenbetter Cumberland Project in 2012.