Emory Report
March 7, 2005
Volume 57, Number 22


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March 7, 2005
Piedmont Project enters fifth year going strong

BY eric rangus

The Piedmont Project is all about sustainability. Sustainability of the Emory campus, sustainability of the region, sustainability of the environment in general—and sustainability of the project itself.

“Every year we’ve had to get money from different sources,” said anthropology Professor Peggy Barlett, who co-directs the project with biology Senior Lecturer Arri Eisen and Jim Wynn of the Faculty Science Council.

The yearlong project brings together faculty from across the University for an environmentally focused summer workshop, followed by curriculum development. If all goes well, participants create new coursework encompassing environmental sustainability. The project was born in 2001 with a grant from the University Teaching Fund. The renewable grant sustained it for a couple years, then the co-directors started submitting grant applications all across campus. The Center for Teaching and Curriculum, the Quadrangle Fund and, this year, Oxford College and the Office of the Provost all have funded the project at various times.

While attracting money often requires some serious elbow grease, drumming up participation has required much less effort. Nearly 80 faculty from across the University (the majority are from Emory College, but every school has had at least one participant) have taken part in the project over the last four years, and several new courses, some of which cross departmental lines, have sprung from it.

For instance, “Water: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on a Vital Element” is a Spring 2005 course conceived by Walt Reed (English/Institute of Liberal Arts), and team-taught by Jack Zupko (philosophy) and Anne Hall (environmental studies) that explores the topic of water from several perspectives, enriching students and teachers alike. “I’m learning a lot about hydrology from Anne,” Zupko said. “And she is learning about philosophies surrounding water from me.”

The Piedmont Project itself contains four elements. An intense two-day workshop the week of Emory’s Commencement kicks things off (this year, it will be held May 19–20 in Miller-Ward Alumni House). Attendees participate in discussions and hear from speakers about various aspects of sustainability—particularly how to incorporate its themes into a curriculum.

An independent curriculum development period follows the workshop, where faculty adjust their teaching materials to incorporate sustainability or design entirely new modules. For faculty in English (a course on nature poetry) or biology (a course on freshwater ecology), the connections often don’t stray too far outside the box.

But for faculty in, say, theology, the results often are innovative. Carol Newsom, professor of Old Testament in the Candler School of Theology, designed “The Bible and the Environment” during her Piedmont Project time in 2001. When she was able to teach the course she developed, not only did Newsom’s students design projects that were taken up by several Atlanta churches, but the Piedmont Project had significant influence on her own scholarship.

“As a result of this course I have had speaking engagements at churches in Pensacola and Birmingham on religion and ecology,” Newsom said. “And I am considering whether to do some writing out of this.”

At the end of the summer, all the project participants take field trips to locations based on the group’s interests. In 2004, the project visited several community gardens, as well as waterways around town to look at stream-bank restoration. Finally, during the following spring, the project reconvenes at a banquet to review its collective accomplishments. The 2004 group will get together April 6.

In recent years, the project has expanded to include graduate students. “In fall 2003, after three years of the Piedmont Project, we really felt like we had a critical mass,” Barlett said. “We had a lot of excitement in each of the professional schools—as many as five people had gone through the project in each of them—and we could start meeting within the schools and talking about what comes next. So we had some meetings, brainstormed ideas, and of them was to bring the project to graduate students, so we’ve done that in two ways.”

One of those is a fellowship program in which graduate students take part in an intensive one-day workshop and curriculum development project similar to that of the faculty. Last year, the fellowship was so popular that extra funding had to be obtained to serve all the students interested. The second way is the introduction of sustainability issues into the Graduate School of Arts Sciences’ teacher training program, TATTO, an effort that has been well received.

The application deadline for the 2005 project was Feb. 4, but some slots remain. Faculty who are interested in signing up should send to Wynn (jwynn@emory.edu) a one-paragraph description of how they would change an old course or develop a new one that will incorporate environmental and sustainability issues. Applying to the project requires a commitment to attend all activities.