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Sustainability Education

The Green German Project: Bridging the Humanities and Science

August 21, 2012Elizabeth HokeFaculty News, GeneralComments Off on The Green German Project: Bridging the Humanities and Science

In recent decades, the sciences and the humanities have found their ways to grow ever farther apart. You don’t hear many biology students raving over their literature course load, just as you do not hear language majors getting excited about their required chemistry class. Scientists write papers about data, while people in the humanities write stories about society. However, a group of innovative language professors at the University of Minnesota have found a way to connect these disciplines in a new venture.

They call it the Green German Project.

It all began last summer when an opportunity for grant proposals arose.  The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) was offering support for new projects, and University of Minnesota Professor Charlotte Melin decided to apply. Melin collaborated with Beth Kautz of the College of Liberal Arts Language Center, and together they began to build a bridge to span the distance between the sciences and the humanities. Melin wanted to give German students the “opportunity to pay attention to what’s going on in sustainability.”

Melin had already been integrating aspects of sustainability into her courses for a few years. However, she wanted to be able to reach more students. The goal of the Green German Project is to develop an online curriculum for other teachers to use to inform students about sustainability. With respect to difficulty level, “the target was intermediate to advanced.” Both high school and college students would benefit from the available coursework.

The project contains fifteen modules on different sustainability subjects, designed to mirror the fifteen weeks of the University semester. Subjects range from recycling to carbon footprints to food, focusing both on Germany and the United States. “I knew people would be interested in this type of initiative,” said Melin.

The Green German Project was launched through College in the Schools, where high school students have the opportunity to engage in college-level courses without attending a university. Although these students followed the model directly, the Green German Project’s webpage offers resources for a wide range of levels if you want to do something different.  “It is amazing to me how many people are interested in this project!” Melin added.

Although this project has been a large success and serves as a great model for others interested in sustainability, it didn’t come without trials.  Connecting two very different sectors of education “creates interesting challenges to working in a broadly interdisciplinary way,” stated Melin. She was initially inspired by the University of Rhode Island’s approaches to sustainability and languages.  Kautz found it most interesting to search the web and find out about exciting things taking place in Germany and “learning so much along the way.” Although she had some previous experience in sustainability, “This is the first time I’ve connected it with my job,” she said.

Besides creating the online Green German Project modules, Melin continues to involve her own students in sustainability. This spring, she hosted an event titled Language/Environment/Media where students could submit sustainability-related projects in foreign languages and compete for prizes. This endeavor was funded through one of the Institute on the Environment’s mini-grants. Melin was “amazed at what they came up with,” and hopes to host the event again next year. “Kommando Rhino: Der Kampf für Wagenplätze” won the award for Best Upper Division Individual Project. The video highlighted student Michael Peterson’s trip to Freiburg, Germany, where he learned about the disappearing nature of “green” cities in Germany and the people trying to bring them back. His project focused on the difficulties and successes of a group of people that are distanced from the modern consumerism lifestyle. Living in Freiburg taught Peterson about sustainability in other cultures, especially within communities. Melin was impressed with “the integration of study abroad experiences and real world experience” into the presentations, and thought that it added a valuable frame to the content.

Melin and Kautz will be presenting some of their findings through the Green German Project at a workshop at the Goethe-Institut in Chicago in September. When asked about the future of the project, Kautz described it as “a jumping off point.” The team hopes to continue to develop the practice of sustainability and spread the word about the difference it can make.

Written by Dominique Boczek

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The Sustainability Education website is administered by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

The University of Minnesota offers sustainability courses in most of its colleges and campuses around the state. These courses encompass biophysical sciences, social sciences, humanities, arts, design, engineering, business, and health. The Sustainability Studies minor is one of several interdisciplinary programs through which such diverse courses come together.
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