JSCNHM home • Winter 2009 • vol. 2 no. 2

The Importance of Learning About Sustainability: The Department of Environmental Studies and Environmental Studies at Sierra College

Kristine Gilbert

Department of Environmental Studies, Sierra College

Even though we are not the most numerous species on the planet, nor do we have the most biomass, humans are having a disproportionate impact on the natural world. Because of our population size (6.8 billion!) and diverse technologies, we are able to have a bigger ecological footprint on this planet than any other species.

As a society, some people are stepping up and demanding that we make conscious decisions to live more sustainably; that we take a step closer to using what we need rather than just taking what we want; that we take into consideration not just our needs and desires, but the needs of other species and the needs of our children, and their children, and their children.

The Next 7 Generations

The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy states that "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."In that light, a core of Sierra College Faculty & Staff have been working for several years to challenge Sierra College as a whole to be more ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable. This group formed the Seventh Generation Project as Sierra College as a part of this effort. The campus moved closer towards sustainability at Sierra College when the Board of Trustees amended the Vision 2020 Statement at Sierra College to include the following Core Value: “Support and demonstrate the sustainable use of all resources.” A combination of these efforts has led to the formation of the newly formed Department of Environmental Studies and Sustainability

This new program includes an Associates Degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, as well as, a photovoltaics technician certificate. This new program of study at Sierra College provides students with the opportunity to continue their study at a four-year university or to enter the newly growing workforce in green technologies and harness renewable energy. It will give them the opportunity to learn in the classroom, the lab, and in the field, and take their education with them wherever they go.

Future Challenges

Students who take the classes in this developing program are enthusiastic to step up to the challenges that face this generation. Those students do not need to be majors in the program in order to take classes in the major, anyone can take these classes to expand their knowledge of the role of humans in the environment.

The program also provides opportunities to students outside of the classroom via partnerships with local business owners and concerned citizens in a collaborative effort to bring sustainability to our community. The future plans for this Department also include the development of associate degrees or certificates with emphases on environmental justice, humans and the environment and watershed ecology.

The new department of Environmental Studies and Sustainability and the revised Vision 2020 stating that Sierra College will “Support and demonstrate the sustainable use of all resources” both take us another step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go. It is our responsibility and privilege to continue the journey down that path. It is my hope that we will successfully incorporate sustainability across the curriculum, across the campus, and across the community in the years to come.


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