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Sustainability 101

Even institutions of higher education are hard at work to secure our sustainable future, by offering curriculum and degrees in sustainability. The University of Hawaii at Manoa and Hawaii Pacific Univeristy are no longer just preparing students to be proficient in one discipline, but rather teaching them to be environmentally responsible citizens who can make a difference in most any field he or she may choose. Because there’s really no clear track for sustainability, except that it’s our future.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Currently, UH-Manoa offers undergraduate students the opportunity to “create their own major,” where any interested junior–someone with 55 credits or more–can sit down with a faculty advisor to do so.

On this track students are expected to quite literally design a major from scratch, right down to submitting a 2-page proposal explaining why the courses chosen represent cohesive coursework. “Because of this,” John Cusick of UH-Manoa’s Environmental Center warns, “this path is not for everyone.” He adds, “The sustainability track allows those students to nurture their specific abilities and to explore the rich diversity of the undergrad experience.”

Undergraduate coursework in sustainability is indeed rich, ranging from business to ecology to engineering. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the student and his or her interests. According to Cusick, undergraduate students studying sustainability have gone on to pursue law, graduate studies, even staff positions in the legislature; but most, he says, have entrepreneurial futures.

Cusick mentions students who have gone on to open an eco-tourist business, an organic chocolate business on the Big Island and a coffee shop in Hawaii Kai that utilizes the sustainability mantra. Tamara Armstrong, now director of client relations for KYA Studios, graduated with a degree in sustainability from this program, Cusick says. The company is currently fulfilling a contract to green Honolulu Airport.

When asked about the future of the program at UH-Manoa, Cusick excitedly says higher education is “embracing curricula in sustainability.” UH had a PhD in sustainability and eco-tourism ready to roll before the economy tanked back in 2006.

“Sustainability is not going away, not in our lifetime anyway. Ideally, we could make the word obsolete,” he says hopefully, “make these practices behavioral patterns instead.”

Hawaii Pacific University

Students interested in working on a master’s in sustainability in Hawaii can take advantage of HPU’s program, developed by and chaired by Professor Art Whatley over the past 10 years.

“It’s evolved into an interdisciplinary degree that focuses on sustainability and global issues,” says Whatley. Course work includes classes in Ecological Economics, Sustainable Human Systems and Power and Social Systems, which “is designed to look at political power and is a flawed system in modern industrial society,” points out Whatley.

The HPU program helps integrate its students into the community through “a very active internship program.” Internships with the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Habitat for Humanity and the state Water Department allow students to have practical, hands-on experience, and oftentimes interns go on to work full time with their sponsors after graduation.

“One of our graduates just got hired full-time on the faculty at Punahou,” says Whatley enthusiastically. “That’s the beauty of the internship: It opens doors for the students.”

Just as those in the graduate program come from a diverse background, the possibilities seem to be endless after earning degrees, too. “I have on student in environmental law at the University of Vermont and another graduate getting a PHd in Urban Planning at UH,” says Whatley. “They do a variety of things.”

Regardless, every student who enters the program has at least one thing in common: “[He or she] is passionate about making a difference in the world. They value change, and making change, towards sustainability.”

University of Hawaii Community Colleges

Education is, of course, a component of 20-year, $58 million contract UHCC just entered into with Johnson Controls, a company which focuses on sustainability. Every semester, UHCC, to include Kapiolani and Honolulu campuses here on Oahu, will be rolling out two to three new courses in sustainability.

“Right now we are in the training phase,” says Shanah Trevenna, who is helping to train the teachers interested in teaching these new courses. Professors undergo a two-hour workshop, which introduces program curricula. Examples of courses to be offered include Introduction to Sustainability, Introduction to Energy Auditing, Introduction to Wind Energy and Integrated Energy Planning.

According to Trevenna, professors from all different fields–biology, business, media–are more than interested to be involved; issues have surfaced, however, regarding how sustainability curriculum will be integrated into current coursework.

“Content has been developed,” says Trevenna. “Now, we are working on adopting an “S” designation.” This designation would allow students to quickly identify courses as those addressing areas in sustainability, much like the current Writing Intensive (WI) and Ethics (E) designations.

“Everyone’s interested,” Trevanna says. “They’re just wondering how to do it with their current load.”