Indiana State University, which was just selected as one of the most environmentally responsible schools, will offer an academic minor in sustainability — and satisfy both students’ and businesses’ growing interest in the field.
This fall, Indiana State University will take another step toward making “Sycamore” synonymous with “sustainability.”
A new academic minor — revised from a minor in conservation — will satisfy both students’ and businesses’ growing interest in sustainability training.
Most students said in recent Indiana State surveys they would like more sustainability curriculum offered, said Caroline Savage, interim executive director of the university’s Institute for Community Sustainability. The sustainability minor has been in the works since 2011.
“Sustainability is not confined to any one field. It can teach you to solve problems, no matter what field you’re going into, and it really doesn’t have any prerequisites,” she said. “We hope someday, everybody gets a sustainability education.”
In addition to the revised minor, the institute is working with the university’s Career Center to develop a certification program.
“We’re seeing more and more fields feeling the need to not be in their own silos, and that’s cool because that’s what sustainability teaches you to do, to think of things as interconnected systems,” Savage said. “So, in addition to the benefits of being able to have sustainability on your resume, there are so many soft skills that come with it, too, that it’s going to make our students really attractive to future employers, if they have sustainability training on their resumes.”
A study by Arizona State University concluded 65 percent of small businesses and 87 percent of large businesses look favorably on candidates with sustainability training. Why? Simple economics, Savage said.
“In sustainability literature, the core components are the economy, society and the environment and how those things are interconnected. You can’t have an economy without people, and people exist in the context of the environment. They are all interrelated,” Savage said. “And businesses care about the bottom line. They care about: How I can cut my costs? They care about: How can I keep my people happy, so they keep working for us?”
As these businesses hire, Indiana State’s new minor gives its graduates a leg up on their competition in the job market — and fulfills the interests of young adults who grew up on programming such “Captain Planet.”
“This generation of students sees themselves as change-makers. They see this as a real opportunity for them to do some good,” Savage said.
Senior Kara Phelps agrees. A biology major, she plans to pursue a master’s and doctorate — and eventually return to Indiana State to teach and work with the Institute for Community Sustainability.
“(Sustainability is) a great way to step outside of the bubble that your major creates and meet more people to help figure out how the world is going to be working outside of college,” Phelps said.
Phelps’ interest in sustainability runs so deep that she has at least three research projects in the field. Her decision to sign up for the minor is a no-brainer, especially considering she’s already satisfied half of the requirements.
“I’ve been taking ‘fun classes’ each semester, and it just so happens a lot of my ‘fun classes’ are going to count for the minor. So, I’m already mostly done with it,” Phelps said.
Her current research projects include taking an inventory of greenhouse gases in Terre Haute, determining whether chemicals from plastic leech into hydroponic gardening systems and seeing if there is a correlation between mediation and sustainability practices.
Green is as green does
It’s not just students taking notice of the Sycamores’ sustainability practices. For the second consecutive year, the Princeton Review selected Indiana State as one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in the U.S. and Canada.
“We are pleased to recommend Indiana State to the many students seeking colleges that practice and promote environmentally-responsible choices and practices,” said Rob Franek, senior vice president and publisher of the Princeton Review.
The education services company chose the schools for its fifth annual edition of “The Princeton Review’s Guide to 332 Green Colleges” based on a survey it conducted last year. College administrators at hundreds of four-year institutions were polled about their schools’ course offerings, campus infrastructure, activities and career preparation.
“We not only have a wind turbine on campus and an award-winning recycling center, but we also have research solutions for economic sustainability and advocate for social justice,” Savage said.
The Princeton Review created its “Guide to 332 Green Colleges” in partnership with the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council. The 216-page guide can be downloaded for free at www.princetonreview.com/green-guide and www.centerforgreenschools.org/greenguide.
“In collaborating with the Princeton Review on this annual guide, we have seen that sustainability on campuses continues to be an important deciding factor for today’s four-year college bound students,” said Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools. “We are excited to once again provide prospective students and their parents with a resource to help them navigate this often daunting decision-making process.”
This designation puts Indiana State at the forefront of that college discussion between students and parents, Savage said.
“Among 10,116 college applicants who participated in our 2014 ‘College Hopes & Worries Survey,’ 61 percent said having information about a school’s commitment to the environment would influence their decision to apply to or attend the school,” Franek said.
It should also come as no surprise that Phelps has lots of ideas for Indiana State to be more environmentally friendly, including installing green roof systems — a roof planted with vegetation to lessen storm runoff to take advantage of unused space and reduce energy costs — and solar panels “all over the place.”
“It’s very easy to see the steps ISU is taking to be more sustainable. Some other schools might be doing a lot of things, but ISU is really making sure the students see we’re doing this for a reason,” Phelps said.