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Community Colleges Creating a Sustainable Curriculum

02/09/12 By Sarah Robinson

North Carolina’s community colleges are increasing their graduates’ employability by incorporating sustainable concepts in their classes. 

Catawba College graduate Holly Weir, who serves as the environment sector project director for the North Carolina Community College System’s Code Green Curriculum Improvement Project,  told an audience of  nearly 40 individuals – which included students, members of Catawba’s faculty and staff, and representatives from Appalachian State University and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College – about the new community college initiative during a “Lunch and Learn” session hosted by the Center for the Environment on February 1st. She noted that integrating sustainability into curricula can also be used in four-year institutions.

Lunch and Learn events are a recent addition to the Center’s programming. During these sessions, speakers give presentations on topics relevant to the campus community while the audience eats lunch in the community room of the dining hall.  This presentation was entitled “Creating Sustainable Curricula.” 

When the community college system wishes to make a change to the curricula, Weir explained, it undertakes a two-year Curricula Improvement Project, or CIP.  In the case of this curricula change, the system was looking not only to incorporate sustainable concepts into course descriptions, such as adding the qualification that agriculture students will understand the impact of livestock on the environment, but also to make the curriculum itself sustainable in that it adapts to the growing trends in the job market.  

The state office has targeted five industry sectors within the community college system for the sustainable initiative:  building, transportation, environment, energy and engineering technology. One person within the system is heading up each category; Weir is in charge of the environment sector. 

This process began several years ago, when many community colleges began to see a “greening of jobs” and the creation of new environmentally-related job fields. Weir noted that many current jobs are transitioning toward sustainable and environmentally-conscious business models. For example, horticulture and landscape design graduates may find themselves with clients who wish to avoid the use of pesticides or chemicals on their lawns.  The new curriculum changes ensure that graduates will be prepared to handle such jobs.  The revised curricula will provide graduates “alternative routes to be employable in a variety of fields,” Weir stated. 

To begin implementing these changes across the state, the instructors themselves will also go back in the classroom through a series of “Train the Trainer” workshops.  These workshops will ensure that the instructors are aware of the most recent advances in the ever-changing field of environment and sustainability. 

Weir concluded her presentation with a question and answer session.  She reiterated that these changes will occur throughout the system of 58 community colleges, from the career services offices to technical courses.  She noted that since the North Carolina community college system is the third largest in the country, many other states (and four-year institutions) are watching the process and may implement similar changes in their curricula in the future. 

The next Lunch and Learn event will be held Thursday, February 9th, at noon. Dr. Francis Koster will give a presentation on the emerging technologies within the environmental field and their p

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