Professors find sustainability to be its own award
The co-directors of the UO’s Sustainable Cities Initiative have been crisscrossing the globe of late and piling up awards. Schlossberg and students studied bicycle transit in Denmark and the Netherlands over the summer; the dynamic duo were in the United Arab Emirates last month to present on sustainability; Larco is currently in Spain as a Fulbright Scholar and as of this writing Schlossberg is in Los Angeles, collecting the program’s latest national recognition, from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
Safe to say the initiative, just four years old, is developing a name across the country and beyond.
“There is a global realization that sustainability issues are critical, coupled with an understanding that these issues cannot be addressed by any single discipline alone,” Larco said. “At the University of Oregon, we have a huge host of faculty and students who work together across disciplines on real-world problems. We have been able to leverage a lot of what exists here and give it a means of affecting a broader community – this has resonated well with people both inside and outside the university.”
The Sustainable Cities Initiative is a cross-disciplinary effort that integrates research, education, service, and public outreach around issues of sustainable city design. One of its signature programs is the Sustainable City Year Program, a partnership between SCI and one city in Oregon per year in which UO courses focus on assisting that city with its sustainability goals and projects.
To date, five universities have adopted the UO's sustainable city program, now widely called “the Oregon Model”: Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State, Cal State-Chico and the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities. Graduate students at the University of Minnesota, for example, began working with the city staff in Minnetonka on sustainable solutions for water conservation, housing and more.
“I’ve also had some great conversations with people here in Spain – and starting conversations with (officials) in France – who are also interested in replicating some of SCI's work/model,” Larco said, in an email.
Earlier this year, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities recognized the sustainability program with an award for “exemplary work reflecting university commitment to engagement.”
The New York Times has called the initiative “perhaps the most comprehensive effort by a U.S. university to infuse sustainability into its curricula and community outreach.”
In a recent story in the Financial Times, one of the world's leading business news publications, Salem City Manager Linda Norris said a contract to design a new police station wouldn’t have moved forward without the support from UO students.
“The city had been cutting staff since 2008,” she said. “I was concerned about how we were going to achieve a number of goals we had set with the limited resources we had.”
While numerous universities have “service learning” courses, it is the scale and scope of the UO program that distinguishes it from the rest. “Nowhere else will you find 25 to 30 courses across 10 to 12 disciplines, all focusing on the same city in a coordinated way,” Schlossberg said.
The initiative represents the university’s commitment to making higher education a player in addressing modern-era issues such as climate change, obesity and limited financial resources.
“Our approach of applied education, applied research, multi-disciplinary problem-solving and policy engagement puts universities back into society as relevant to helping communities, the state and the nation actually address some of the moment's most vexing issues,” Schlossberg said.
-- story by communications specialist Matt Cooper, UO media relations