Society problems

New courses to explore the intersections of Earth, climate and society

In its first year of operation, the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability will offer a range of new courses designed to attract enrollment from all corners of campus and to cultivate the in-depth knowledge needed to foster a sustainable future. The offers stem from a call for proposals launched almost a year before the school’s launch in September 2022.

“We heard from students, faculty, academic staff and alumni telling us where they hoped we would fill some gaps,” said Nicole Ardoinan associate professor of education who co-led the Education Transition Team in developing curriculum recommendations for the school with Marc Horowitz, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “These are not meant to replace existing courses – the new ones aim to recognize more broadly all the types of thinking we need to tackle the grand challenges of sustainability.”

Undergraduate and graduate courses cover topics such as health, communication, social change, philanthropy, and more, combining expertise from Stanford’s seven schools. Several feature key sustainability-focused experiences — such as community engagement or immersive off-campus learning — to foster education beyond the classroom.

More than a dozen new courses will be gradually rolled out from fall 2022 to spring 2023 and will be joined by additional courses and degree programs in subsequent years.

Create intersections

In the proposal process, the selection team elevated courses that addressed known gaps in existing sustainability and climate programs, including the intersections of environment, energy and sustainability with race. , power and equity; environmental ethics and philosophy; climate and ocean systems; and sustainable development.

Lists such as Imagining adaptive societies – an exploration of speculative fiction as a more positive view of the future – and Media and environment – a study of how artistic media can challenge perceptions of the planet – aims to draw attention to unexplored paradigms.

In Environmental humanities: finding our place in a changing planet, undergraduates will learn from a team of teachers that includes a planetary health expert from the School of Medicine, a theoretical ecologist from the Woods Institute for the Environment, and a biologist from the School of Humanities and Science. – many of whom will also have an appointment at the Doerr School of Sustainability. By engaging the work of environmental philosophers, cultural ecologists, artists, Indigenous scholars, and others with knowledge of the land, the course will challenge students to think deeply about the place of the humanity in the world and to explore strategies to change our course.

“A humanistic way of understanding the world around us is a critical lens – it opens up our understanding; it opens up our empathy,” said Ardoin, who is also director of the faculty of the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER). “If we don’t consider all of these lenses together, we lose much of the toolkit we need to be able to approach and understand the world around us.”

The new courses have been designed and developed during the transition period to the new school over the past year and a half. Some extend existing courses, introducing new elements of sustainability or interdisciplinary collaboration, or will be offered to a wider audience through the school.

Take the pulse of the planetan entirely new course, includes a teaching staff of 10 who bring expertise in sensing technologies, oceans, atmosphere, seismic hazards, and more.

Foster understanding

When professor at the Graduate School of Business (GSB) Guillaume Barnet received the call for new courses, he was immediately excited about the prospect of working with students who will discover lasting solutions.

“Every day I wake up aware that we don’t yet know what we need to know to make the world sustainable,” said Barnett, who is now also a professor at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.. “My courses are not designed to provide solutions that we already know, but to help students design the systems that discover those solutions.”

In Environmental sustainability: global challenges and possible solutionsan undergraduate course, Barnett teaches with Field ChrisProfessor of Biology and Earth System Science, and Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. The course, which is part of the new COLLEGE Curriculum required of first-year students, will guide participants through the fundamental challenges facing humanity.

“When people hear about sustainability challenges, most respond by thinking about what they should be doing as a consumer, like buying a reusable water bottle,” said Barnett, who will also have a date. at the Doerr School of Sustainability. “It’s a good first start, but it’s not enough.”

The course explores the global biological, cultural, social, and economic processes involved in environmental sustainability, with the goal that students incorporate this knowledge into their experience at Stanford, regardless of their eventual major. Barnett will also teach a PhD level course, Organizations and sustainabilitywhich will examine social science research on how organizations play a role in creating a sustainable world.

Highlighting the humanities

Two medievalists will challenge students to critique humanity itself to better understand our sustainable future.

One of the courses offered by Elaine Treharne and Catherine Starkey is an introductory seminar (IntroSem): Communication Ecologies. The small, hands-on elective course designed specifically for frosh and sophomores will explore how the remains of cultures will be discovered and interpreted by future generations, viewing the human record itself as a resource.

“One of the things that Stanford and many other institutions are doing right now is promoting this idea of ​​fixing the world or solving tomorrow’s problems today – and my question would be, ‘Why? Who will this benefit? said Treharne, an English teacher at the School of Humanities. “These are really important questions and they affect our decision makers right now.”

“What we hope students will take away from the course is, among other things, the ability to ask these questions and to think in terms of a long history, with ethical questions, political questions, social justice questions and rhetoric – all of these aspects are really at the heart of humanities approaches,” said Starkey, professor of German studies.

The second course they developed, a graduate seminar called The sustainability of the human fileexplores what could be a future Rosetta Stone with surviving monuments, texts and languages ​​from 2022: What guarantees that people in the future will know how to avoid the deadly nuclear discharges and climate breakdown created now?

“Floods are a big problem now, and mostly because of changing river courses and building dams over the last 300 years or so,” Treharne said. “If scientists were talking to humanists, humanists would say, ‘If we look at these 11th century place names in Europe, or the ancient Native American place names where they survive, we would know not to build there, or not to change the course”. of this river.’”

Next steps

Leaders at the Doerr School of Sustainability continue to develop curriculum ideas and learning opportunities that engage a wide range of students at Stanford, including offering through the Stanford Graduate Summer Institute (SGSI) – one week-long immersive experience for incoming and current graduate studentsNew introductory courses, a series of lectures, and more.

“We are excited to create a sustainability curriculum across the university and want faculty to know that we have an open door for anyone interested in teaching in conjunction with the school,” said Anjana Richards, director of transition planning and implementation for the Doerr School of Sustainability, which helped organize the call for proposals in addition to spring 2022 workshops attended by more than 90 instructors for brainstorm future teaching ideas and build community.

Faculty and staff interested in collaborating should email education_sustainability@stanford.edu. Students interested in researching future learning opportunities can browse by subject under Doerr School of Sustainability from the main page Explore courses landing page. For general information for students on the development of the program so far, visit Q&A: Education Programs in the New School.