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December 10, 2001

Piedmont Project looks to 'green' curriculum

By Eric Rangus


Environmental consciousness is not something that can be tucked away in the corner of some off-the-beaten-path academic department.

While it may not be apparent on the surface of many disciplines, the natural environment pervades them all.

Doctors and hospitals heal the sick, yes, but they must also deal with medical waste and its effect on the environment. The development of public lands is very much the realm of lawyers. Even foreign language programs, which deal with the cultures of the lands in which their tongues are spoken, must take into account environmental concerns in Europe or Asia or South America.

It is this type of interdisciplinary attitude that is driving a new effort to develop courses around environmental issues throughout Emory. The program is called the Piedmont Project.

Peggy Barlett, professor of anthropology, and Arri Eisen, senior lecturer in biology, along with a dozen other faculty members are spearheading the effort, which began this spring. The Piedmont Project received a $56,500 grant from the University Teaching Fund (UTF), and that cash immediately was put to good use.

In May, Barlett, Eisen and the Faculty Science Council’s Sally Pete hosted a two-day workshop for 22 Emory faculty and resource experts called “Environmental Issues Across the Curriculum.” The workshop featured professors Paul Rowland and Geoffrey Chase of Northern Arizona University. Rowland and Chase lead the Ponderosa Project, an interdisciplinary group effort among NAU faculty to incorporate environmental sustainability issues into university courses. The goal is to give students the education and skills necessary to achieve sustainable communities and societies.

The Piedmont Project uses the nationally known Ponderosa Project as its model, right down to its geographically attuned moniker.

“Getting to know people from across the faculty was an interesting experience,” said Pete, who handled much of the planning, coordination and communication among the attendees. “A lot of people who had never met before and would never have met—from law and theology, for example—got together and are now friends.”

“This project has led to so many interdisciplinary conversations—far more than I expected,” Barlett said. “I’m deeply satisfied that a number of faculty have expressed the desire to talk with each other about curriculum issues.”

“What’s exciting,” Barlett continued, “is that this has brought together people who don’t normally interact with the college. That’s not an easy thing to do.”

The prospective courses being investigated are as intriguing as they are diverse, coming from subjects ranging from theology (Carol Newsom’s “The Bible and the Environment”) to public health (Howard Frumkin’s “Health Impacts of Urban Sprawl”) to English (John Bugge is developing a course on utopian literature in environmental perspective—see First Person). Participating professors came from all over Emory and Oxford, and courses discussed would cover both undergraduate and graduate students.

As part of the project, participating faculty set aside time over the summer to create a syllabus and sketch out their ideas. They receive feedback twice—once in August, a projectwide event that took place at Oxford College, and again in February.

Some efforts—a revision of the curriculum in chemistry is one—have already been or currently are being implemented. Others, primarily the ones that require the creation of a new course, will not leave the drawing board and become reality until next fall.

In the meantime, several members of the project, as well as other faculty members, meet informally each month as part of a Green Lunch Group. About 20–25 faculty members get together to discuss issues of the environment and its relevance to their work. While each month’s attendees number about two dozen, more than 70 professors have expressed interest, Barlett said.

That interest is not limited to lunch, either. Planning has already begun for a workshop next May that will include a new list of participants, and new UTF funding has been secured as well. The goal is to sign up 15 faculty and five administrators, and several of this year’s participants will address the workshop.

“We’re quite happy,” said Eisen, who, like Barlett and Pete, will be organizing next year’s project. “Just the fact that this year’s activities have led to a second year of funding, means that there has been an impact.”

To document their current work, Eisen and Barlett are currently writing a chapter for a book, Teaching Sustainability at Universities: Toward Curriculum Greening, to be published next year.


Back to Emory Report December 10, 2001