Evaluating core competencies and learning outcomes for training the next generation of sustainability researchers

Abstract

The need to train sustainability scientists and engineers to address the complex problems of our world has never been more apparent. We organized an interdisciplinary team of instructors from universities in the states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island who designed, taught, and assessed a multi-university course to develop the core competencies necessary for advancing sustainability solutions. Lessons from the course translate across sustainability contexts, but our specific focus was on the issues and trade-offs associated with dams. Dams provide numerous water, energy, and cultural services to society while exacting an ecological toll that disrupts the flow of water, fish, and sediment in rivers. Like many natural resource management challenges, effective dam decisions require collaboration among diverse stakeholders and disciplines. We linked key sustainability principles and practices related to interdisciplinarity, stakeholder engagement, and problem-solving to student learning outcomes that are generalizable beyond our dam-specific context. Students and instructors co-created class activities to build capacity for interdisciplinary collaboration and encourage student leadership and creativity. Assessment results show that students responded positively to activities related to stakeholder engagement and interdisciplinary collaboration, particularly when practicing nested discussion and intrapersonal reflection. These activities helped broaden students’ perspectives on sustainability problems and built greater capacity for constructive communication and student leadership.

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Acknowledgements

The data used in this paper are available upon request. This Grant was supported by NSF- 1539071 to K. Gardner, P. Kirshen, D. Hart, E. Uchida, and A. Gold. This paper benefitted from comments by two anonymous reviewers, and contributions by A. Gold, V. Levesque, C. Ashcraft, J. Zydlewski, K. Wilson, all participating students, all stakeholders, and members of the future of dams cohort.

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Roy, S.G., de Souza, S.P., McGreavy, B. et al. Evaluating core competencies and learning outcomes for training the next generation of sustainability researchers. Sustain Sci 15, 619–631 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-019-00707-7

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Keywords

  • Sustainability science
  • Pedagogy
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Class
  • Course
  • Evaluation