Global Environments + Sustainability

Preparing students to understand, innovate and lead efforts to sustainably transform the physical environment.

 

Overview

The relationship between human societies and the planet have created many of today’s most intractable global challenges. The search for new social, spatial, and technological systems that do not require undue and increasing amounts of finite resources is known as sustainability. Over the past 50 years, Earth’s human population has doubled, to 6.8 billion people, and is projected to increase to 9.2 billion by 2050. When multiplied by a growing per-capita rate of consumption, the resulting effect is an accelerated depletion of natural resources, loss of natural capital, worldwide water and energy shortages, pressure on global food supplies, loss of precious biodiversity, increasing global health challenges, and social upheaval. These issues threaten human well-being and the Earth's ecosystems.

Curriculum

The pan-university Global Environments + Sustainability (GSVS) program is a track or concentration within the interdisciplinary Global Studies major. Students gain knowledge through a diverse range of courses across the University focused on multifaceted sustainability concepts, challenges and possible solutions. They deepen their understanding of these issues by working collaboratively in both the Global Sustainability foundation course and the Capstone Seminar.

GSVS students address issues associated with human transformations of the earth through the triple lens of sustainability: Environment, Equity, and Economy. These three pillars of sustainability are described by the US EPA and others as the three P's: Planet, People and Prosperity. Sustainability students study:

  • environmental, social, and personal behavior and ethics
  • earth system science, environmental sustainability, ecosystem restoration and environmental conservation
  • economics, development, natural capital, resource allocation and externalities
  • human settlement patterns, rapid urbanization, and affordable housing
  • fresh water and sanitation production, consumption, and infrastructure
  • energy production, consumption, and infrastructure
  • agriculture, food systems, and food security
  • public health challenges connected with the built environment
  • environmental impact of material science and production
  • transportation technologies and logistics

These issues threaten human well-being and the Earth's ecosystems. This integrated and interdisciplinary track provides foundational knowledge on the multifaceted aspects of both problems and solutions, and challenges participants to deepen their understanding of global sustainability issues through applied research.

Questions & Problems

What is sustainability and what are the dimensions of our physical environment in need of serious research and action?

What is the relationship between the constructed and natural environments and how do diverse global cultures inhabit and transform their physical environment? What are the factors that have led to past and current conditions?

What are the material, ethical, and economic relationships between the rapid pace of global urbanization and the depletion of natural resources?

What values are implicit in what we create? What are the ways of thinking and skills necessary to positively change the physical world? What traditional knowledge and new technologies are most promising for a sustainable future?

Knowledge & Skills

Students develop multiple skills and competencies necessary to understand and develop strategies for solving complex environmental issues:

  • knowledge of historical and current environmental conditions
  • cross-cultural translation and comparison
  • statistical literacy, visual literacy and the visualization of data
  • systems thinking and design thinking skills to address complex, open-ended problems
  • applied, project-based problem-solving
  • research methods for collaboration across diverse disciplines (scientific, technical, social, aesthetic, economic)
  • communication, community engagement and leadership skills

History

The Global Studies major was approved in February 2014 and the first class of GSVS students graduated in May 2016. 147 students have graduated from the program as of May 2020. The program attracts a diverse array of undergraduates from the College and Schools across grounds and the number of students applying to GSVS has steadily increased.

Careers

Students in the Global Environments + Sustainability program learn to be effective researchers, leaders and collaborators in a range of institutional and academic settings, international and domestic governmental agencies, the nonprofit sector, and private business. Together we are building a strong alumni network to enrich the program and to advise current students about career opportunities.