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The Great Problems Seminars: Connecting Students with External Stakeholders in Project-Based Approaches to Sustainable Development Education in the First Year

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Abstract

The Great Problems Seminars program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute is a first year, project-based seminar series that aims to get first year STEM students to tackle real world, open-ended, and complex problems. We do this through an interdisciplinary team teaching approach that often includes local and international stakeholders. Each seminar focuses on one ‘great problem’ such as food, water, or energy. These courses culminate in student driven, team-based projects aimed at identifying and addressing some important aspect of the ‘great problem’. In this process students work with external organizations (sustainable development NGOs, community organizations, businesses, etc.) to gain a real world context along with interaction with people affected by or engaged in solving these critical problems. Sustainable development education is a core part of the curriculum to prepare students to engage with external stakeholders. We have found that students really come to understand, and take ownership of many of the problems that they identify. In this chapter we will highlight ethical, pedagogical and practical challenges of this type of course, present successes, and describe our strategies for cultivating the evolving long-term partnerships with external organizations as they relate to ESD capacity building writ large.

Keywords

  • Project based learning
  • Sustainable development
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Higher education

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-26734-0_15
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Correspondence to Derren Rosbach .

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Pfeifer, G., Rosbach, D. (2016). The Great Problems Seminars: Connecting Students with External Stakeholders in Project-Based Approaches to Sustainable Development Education in the First Year. In: Leal Filho, W., Brandli, L. (eds) Engaging Stakeholders in Education for Sustainable Development at University Level. World Sustainability Series. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-26734-0_15

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