Beyond interdisciplinary: how sustainability creates opportunities for pan-university efforts

  • Lisa Benton-Short
  • Kathleen A. Merrigan


In many universities, sustainability is gaining currency in the classroom, in research, and in practice. This paper will examine how George Washington University has crafted sustainability education as a pan-university program. We briefly discuss the origins GW’s sustainability efforts, then explain how the vision of a pan-university approach was developed. GW’s Academic Program in Sustainability does not reside in any one school—instead it sits under the Office of the Provost. As such, Sustainability belongs to all schools. We next discuss the development of a pan-university sustainability minor, open to all students, and featuring courses and faculty from all schools at the university. As universities undertake efforts to integrate sustainability into the curriculum, an important element is team-teaching. Because sustainability is inherently trans-disciplinary, courses that are team-taught generate multiple perspectives on the same issues, leading to dynamic and engaging discussions with faculty and students. We examine the success of the Introduction to Sustainability course that uses five faculty from five different schools at GW to provide students the exposure to how different disciplines problem solve around sustainability, and how a team approach lends itself well to the learning outcomes of the course. There is also tremendous value in student experiential learning around sustainability. GW requires Sustainability minors to complete an internship or service project around sustainability, and we discuss how this is structured. We also highlight how the process of creating a pan-university program in sustainability provided an opportunity for faculty collaboration, creativity, and “thinking outside the box” approaches. Finally, by positioning sustainability as pan-university, we have met with challenges. We address the challenges and obstacles to creating a genuinely pan-university effort that seeks to escape the traditional “silos” of schools and departments and to move beyond interdisciplinarity as well.


Sustainability curriculum Pan-university objectives Innovations in sustainability education 



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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA

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