University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Sustainability Education

New Course Opportunities



PA 4790 – Sustainable Infrastructure and Cities

This course is broadly inter-disciplinary and explores infrastructure and sustainable cities across the perspectives of – science and engineering, environmental studies, urban design, planning, public affairs and public health.

The course will cover:

  1. Sustainable urban systems thinking
  2. Sustainability measurements and analysis— for infrastructures and for cities
  3. Innovative case studies linking infrastructure design, urban design and public policy for sustainability, health and resilience

Systems based understanding of a city with built infrastructure, people and the natural environment as key interacting elements

How do key infrastructure sectors – water, energy, buildings, transportation-communication, sanitation/waste management, food supply and public spaces—affect environmental sustainability and risk in cities?

What are the various metrics to report on environmental sustainability, health and resilience?

How can we apply principles of systems design and innovation to built better cities of the future?

HCOL 3805H – Our Common Waters: The Science, History, Economics, and Societal Issues of the Great Lakes

Instructors: Deborah Swackhamer and Daniel Philippon
3 credits
Fulfills LE requirement: Environment

This honors class will explore “water” by focusing on the Great Lakes, using a liberal arts approach to emphasize the interdisciplinary aspects of water in nature and society. Students will learn about the chemical, ecological, and geological aspects and challenges of the Great Lakes. We will also examine the rich history, economic drivers, music, art, and cultural contributions, and the laws and policies that govern the Great Lakes and shape national and international policy. In addition, students will benefit from a mentored research experience that allows them to explore one of these areas in further depth.

Students not in the Honors Program are welcome; contact to be placed on the waiting list.

Registration & more info


GWSS 1006 – Skin, Sex, Genes

Thursdays 6:20-8:50
Professor Michelle Garvey
Meets Liberal Ed requirements for Social Sciences and Technology & Society

This course introduces students to feminist science studies. We will analyze how technology and science produce both liberatory and oppressive relations between and across genders, sexes, sexualities, races, species, abilities, classes, and environments. Our tools are interdisciplinary, and include critical histories, scientific data, cultural artifacts. We use these to embed science in its social, political, and environmental contexts.

Major Questions:

  • How is scientific knowledge created, circulated, and legitimated…and by whom?
  • How does “feminist objectivity” compare & contrast with scientific objectivity?
  • What do contemporary feminisms have to say about “nature/nurture” debates?
  • Environmental, food, & climate justice

Major Topics:

  • Democracy in science
  • Reproductive politics
  • Infections and biofears
  • “Old” eugenics, “new” eugenics
  • Gendered & racial minorities in STEM fields
  • The science of queer sex, gender, and sexualities
  • Posthumanisms & critical animal studies
  • Biocolonialism & biopiracy
  • The “reality” of race


GWSS 4003 – Science, Bodies, Technologies

Spring 2015 – Tuesday, 6:30-8:50
Professor Michelle Garvey

“Toxic Trespass”

This class examines the links among environmental movements, calls for environmental justice, and feminist analysis. Significant scientific data and activist movement testifies to the pervasive, damaging toxins in our lands, water, air, and bodies. The class studies human and nonhuman chemical body burdens and the complex relationships among science, industry, government, and ecology that determine these using feminist environmental theory, feminist science studies, and environmental justice theory, students will distinguish environmental concerns that can enhance socio-environmental health and resilience from those that exacerbate conceptions of historically marginalized races, classes, genders, and species as “toxic.” Tracing the material and ideological “traffic in toxins” can illuminate pathways toward more sustainable relations among humans and ecologies.


Photo credit

Day at the Museum: Undergraduate Leaders’ Kickoff Inspires and Connects

November 19, 2014Erica VandenbuschEvents, General, Undergraduate NewsComments Off


Why was this thing being held in an art gallery?  Why did I say I’d do this anyway?  Now I’m stuck here for my whole Saturday.  Will I like the other people?  The whispers of doubt floated through a head or two, or fifteen, as a group of UMN undergraduate students representing five different colleges made their way up the stairs to the NASH Gallery at the Regis Center for Art.  They represented the students selected for the Institute on the Environment’s Undergraduate Leaders Program and it was the Kick Off on November 8th, 2014.  They shared in common an interest in sustainability, making a difference, and leadership.


In their hands, they brought a representation of sustainability and unsustainability to put on a timeline. (Well….and a few people had some cakes and cookies too).

Here’s what they said afterwards.

The Undergraduate Leaders’ Kick Off was….

“A new perspective on an old passion.”

“An incredible opportunity to meet fellow undergrads who are passionate about sustainability and social change.  We had the opportunity to collaborate on our ideas for what the next AASHE Conference in 2015 can look like, and, for me, it was valuable to continue the discussion of bringing a social justice lens into sustainability.  Best of all…we all like each other a lot!  I can’t wait for the next one. :)”

 “A breath of fresh air for my soul.”

“My first introduction to on-campus peers who are also passionate about sustainability and activism. I loved it!”

 “Inspiring. The connections and experiences at the Kick Off empowered me to take these messages out into the world and not be afraid to shake up Business as Usual”!


 “Inspiring! It was so cool to learn about other people’s views on sustainability. I’m super excited to grow with this team and learn about how we can make a difference!”

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 “Engaging and built social capital.”

 “A unique way of bringing multiple disciplines together to discuss sustainability issues.”


What happened in between?  A lot of team bonding and thought and practice about creative means of communication.  Centering around sustainability as equity and reciprocity, one of the major tools this year is to think about how to effectively communicate and represent sustainability in a way that facilitate it to be more inclusive and interdisciplinary.

Leaders were greeted by the thinking making living exhibit at the NASH.  The exhibit drew on a range of artists and mediums to create a public art platform that required participation and confronted us to “think making and make living.” Through art, it questioned how we are in the world today, how we relate to each other and interact with the ecological, political, and cultural issues that shape our lives.  It immersed the group within creative forms of expression on sustainability, equity, diversity.


They made their way to a project space located within the exhibit itself. It was not a museum that shushed people into a quiet observance, but one which encouraged engagement. That was good since a gurgle of talking and laughter starting flowing from the group almost immediately as they shared out on who they were, made goofy grunting noises while throwing around an imaginary ball, and did some team building.

“I appreciated having the time to get know each other,” Miah Ulysse, a student in Food Systems and Leadership.

Flash forward to Representation.  Question: How can we be creative communicators and represent a vision of sustainability that is inclusive and diverse?  Methodology: As one of our activities at Kick-Off, we will be creating a History of Unsustainability/Sustainability Timeline to help us contextualize sustainability as well as introduce each of us to each others’ views on sustainability.  Come with a “representation” of an event, invention, social change, person, power shift, etc. that you feel is important to both the history of unsustainability/sustainability and your vision of sustainability.

As each of the students explained their representations, everyone brought something a little different to the table.

“Is it good?  Or is it bad?  Sustainability is often not black and white.” John Thompson of HECUA said as he thought through his presentation on several inventions that have impacted our past, present, and future.

Exploration.  Take time explore the gallery to see how public artists are engaging sustainability.  Then translate that to your own art project and work.


“I was looking at Seitu Jones’s Self Portrait and Seed on Drawing and saw they were connected.  He was the seed and the seed was him.  It was like an ah ha. We are the seeds and they are us.  We’re connected.  Sustainability, I am in you.  Sustainability is us,” said Kyle Samejima, a student in environmental communication, as she thought about how to integrate some of the ideas on thinking making living into her own work.

Application.  Apply these creative thoughts to reality.  What do you think should be in the call for proposals for the 2015 AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) conference that will be hosted in Minneapolis should include.  Students thought outside the box to come with a wide range of ideas that will go to the conference planners.

 “Being surrounded by art and positive energy today was really refreshing,” commented Beth Mercer-Taylor, UMN Sustainability Studies Minor Advisor to sum things up.

Thanks for the great time.

If you have questions about the Undergraduate Leaders Program, contact Kate Flick at

ACARA Spring 2015 Courses

Acara guys

Do you care about a problem in the world? Do you want to travel? Do you want to make a positive impact in 2015?Getting started means joining an Acara course. Acara is the University of Minnesota’s impact entrepreneurship program, shaping leaders and ventures for global impact. Whether you are a grad student or an undergrad interested in solving problems related to environment, health, economy, infrastructure, or inequality, these classes are for you. Apply now for our Spring 2015 courses here.

Acara Spring 2015 Opportunities:CE 5570 – May-term India Discovery Course – May 2015
What: In this 3-week, 3-credit May-term study abroad course to Bangalore, India, we’ll explore solutions to societal and environmental challenges (e.g. waste, water, energy, agriculture, health and livelihoods) through entrepreneurs, local leaders, and communities.When: May 18-June 8, 2015

In the course you will:

  • Discover Bangalore
  • Interact with entrepreneurs
  • Enjoy India’s cuisine and diverse culture
  • Explore approaches to development challenges
  • Design your own venture solution

CE 5571 – Acara Global Venture Design: Grand Challenges – Spring 2015
What: The Acara Challenge course is an interdisciplinary, global, entrepreneurial, experiential, project-based 4-credit impact venture design course in which students create solutions to grand challenges in MN (e.g. water, energy, agriculture, health).

When: Spring 2015, Fridays 9am–noon

In the course you will:

  • Identify a grand challenge locally
  • Design an impact venture solution
  • Collaborate on an interdisciplinary project team
  • Be mentored by business professionals
  • Pitch your venture for funding

CE 5572 – Apply for Acara Social Venture Launchpad course in J-Term
What: The Acara Launchpad course is a 2-credit impact venture design course in which UMN students develop their existing ideas for venture solutions to social and environmental challenges.

When: January-Term 2015 (Jan 12-16).

In the course you will:

  • Refine your idea for an impact venture solution
  • Work with business professionals
  • Meet impact entrepreneurs and investors in MN
  • Pitch your venture for funding

NURS 5800: Sustainable Development in Africa: Entrepreneurial Solutions with Ugandan Communities 

What: This 3-credit course is an interdisciplinary, global, entrepreneurial, experiential, project-based course in which students create venture solutions to One Health challenges in Uganda with Ugandan students.

When: Spring 2015, day/time TBD

See or contact Brian Bell at for details.

Note: All courses are open to upper level undergrads and grad students from all majors. No prerequisites are required. See to apply. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and are due by December 21, 2014. Acara is a series of courses and incubation actions to educate future leaders and develop impactful venture solutions focused on societal and environmental change in the U.S. and abroad.

U of M Students Storm AASHE Conference in Portland


Madeline Giefer

Last week five students from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities jetted off to Portland to exchange ideas for campus sustainability with students, staff, and faculty at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) annual conference. AASHE holds the largest conference of its kind in the world, and this year it drew members from every state and twelve countries on six continents. Simone Childs-Walker, Tyler Redden, Bailey Rockwell, Jeff Tierney, and Madeline Giefer represented Sustainability Education during many workshops, roundtable discussions, and networking sessions. Out of the experience they brought back plenty of new ideas from these sessions as well as presentations by high-profile sustainability advocates.

Anna Lappé

Anna Lappé closes out the Student Summit with an address on food systems

Sunday was dedicated to student action with the AASHE Student Summit, where students participated in workshops on student engagement. From leadership theory to strategizing specific campus initiatives, there was something to support the work of any student activist. The Student Summit closed with a keynote address by Anna Lappé, world-renowned author and educator on sustainable food systems. She raised questions of health inequities, environmental risk, the implications of advertising to children, and corporate power in the American democratic system.

The full conference officially kicked off with another keynote presentation by Annie Leonard, creator of the Story of Stuff campaign. She argued for “busting out of the environmental silo” to bring more disciplines into the sustainability movement. She also mapped out human behavior in terms of our “consumer muscle,” which is continuously rewarded, and our “citizen muscle,” which has atrophied. Leonard believes a collective decision to “flex” our citizen muscles is necessary to “get corporations out of our democracy and the citizens back in” and ultimately achieve a sustainable economy and society. Though Leonard is more optimistic than many about our ability to change for the better, she nonetheless delivered a stern ultimatum: “Are we going to change by design? Or are we going to change by disaster?”

Tyler finds a friend outside. Portland's animals may be as friendly as its people.

Tyler finds a friend outside. Portland’s animals may be as friendly as its people.

On Monday the conference continued with more sessions on curriculum design, student leadership, and enhancing a university’s role as a sustainability leader and exemplar. There was also a poster session with more than one hundred presenters, which drew so much engagement the session was running strong well past its one-hour time slot.

Monday closed with an address by sustainability and diversity advocate Marcelo Bonta. Sporting bright orange pants, Bonta explained the value of “color” in his life as a metaphor for cultural diversity. Bonta grew up in a multi-racial family and now has one of his own. Early in his environmental career, he had encountered blatantly racist remarks from coworkers and felt a constant sense of exclusion in the field, which later inspired him to found the Center for Diversity and the Environment and Young Environmental Professionals of Color. While he now has a much more positive outlook on this issue, he worries the environmental movement may not be able to incorporate the rising percentage of minorities in the United States, especially children of color who are expected to make up half the U.S. child population by 2019. “In order to be for all, we have to be with all,” he said in his appeal for more active incorporation of people of color into environmental organizations.

The conference closed on Tuesday with a closing presentation by EcoDistricts founder Rob Bennett. EcoDistricts works to heal communities and neighborhoods that are victims of environmental injustice. The organization focuses on “urban renewal,” or working sustainability and community building into urban planning. Bennett believes strongly in the potential of community and campus organizers. “We are the disruptors!” he told the crowd. Bennett’s speech nicely tied together the conference’s themes of university responsibility, community and student action, and diversity and justice within the environmental movement.

The Oregon Convention Center was full of info on proper waste sorting.

The Oregon Convention Center was full of info on proper waste sorting.

Medical student Simone Childs-Walker had great success connecting with other sustainability enthusiasts at the conference, which she believes is critical in her sustainability work. “Place matters. Stories matter. Relationships matter. It is our work to meet people where they are and to be present, humble, and grateful.”

Next year we are fortunate enough to have the AASHE conference in Minneapolis. Organizing such a large international event is a monumental task, so if you are interested in getting involved, contact Madeline Giefer at

Sustainability Education was able to send so many students thanks to a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation through Student Unions and Activities.   

Jeff takes some time to enjoy the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Jeff takes some time to enjoy the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest.coca-cola-foundation-logo-604



Resources for Voters: Making Voting Easier

November 3, 2014MadelineGeneral, Graduate News, Undergraduate NewsComments Off

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Tomorrow is election day, when we’ll be choosing the Minnesota Governor, federal Senators and Congresspeople, and our state legislature. So whichever candidates you believe have our best interests in mind, be sure to cast your vote.

And remember, even if you haven’t registered yet, you can register at the polls tomorrow.

To find your polling place and answer other logistical questions, visit this webpage provided by the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. Public transit is free all day, and you may be able to secure a sponsored free ride to the polls.

Information for voters without a Minnesota driver’s license is available here. Just bring another photo ID plus plus a bill (utility, cable, etc.) with your name and address on it, or another registered voter who can vouch for you.

If you live in Minneapolis but aren’t sure who you’ll vote for, check out this voter information packet provided by the League of Women Voters.

Voting is both a right and a civic obligation, so please help ensure the best government possible for Minnesota and the nation.



Image credit: Alan Cleaver

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.