Sustainability has become an increasingly hot topic in today’s society. But what is sustainability and how can we contribute to a sustainable world? St. Kate’s is now offering the opportunity for students to add a sustainability studies minor to their degree to explore what sustainability means for their individual discipline.
So what is sustainability? What is the minor built on?
In the St. Kate’s course catalog, the new minor is described as “an interdisciplinary program that teaches students creative methods that can be used to interrogate, understand, and solve real-life business, social, and environmental problems. Through the lens of design thinking, students will build a solid understanding of principles, processes, and applications of sustainability and innovation, which can be applied to a wide range of disciplines.”
Fashion department chair and professor Dr. Anupama Pasricha described the 4 pillars that build sustainability: human, social, economical, and environmental factors. She said that learning and applying sustainable practices is another way for students to participate in environmental justice as well as social justice efforts.
“We won’t be able to sustain the life that we have lived so far, we have abused our resources. It has abused the environment, and now we have landed in a situation where we have to take quick action now,” Dr. Pasricha said.
The idea all started in the fashion department. Dr. Pasricha began incorporating sustainability in a few fashion courses in 2008 but the subject has now grown to be an integral part of all fashion courses as well as spurring into courses of their own such as “Sustainable Product Development.”
Dr. Pasricha partnered up with Professor Jackie Parr, another faculty member from the fashion department to put together a minor revolving around sustainability as well as reaching out to faculty from other departments to spread awareness.
“The fashion industry was at the forefront of the sustainability crisis that we’re having in all different sectors,” said Professor Parr. “We found that students were really interested in sustainability and wanted to have a place to learn about sustainability, but not necessarily in regards to fashion.”
The sustainability minor is interdisciplinary, meaning that it can go hand in hand with any major that students have declared. Most of the courses for the minor were already being offered at the university within multiple departments, but have now been conceptualized into a minor.
“[The program] involves fashion faculty, biology faculty, political science, business, literature, arts, and so I was that person who collaborated with everybody to create this minor which encompasses all these different disciplines,” Professor Parr said.
The minor begins with an intro class called ‘Building a Sustainable World.’ Dr. Pasricha said the class is built around “understanding your personal footprint, your strengths, and how different systems are interconnected.” She intends to bring in faculty from departments such as chemistry, biology, or economics as guest speakers to bring the interdisciplinary lens to the minor.
“I think having that option to have a class group of students who are coming from different disciplines, and bringing their background, their learning, their knowledge, and working and discussing together, I think that enriches this whole minor by itself,” Dr. Pasricha said.
The rest of the minor is relatively flexible. Students are able to build their minor around their discipline and sustainability interests and finish with a product development course.
The ‘Sustainable Product Development’ course also has its roots in the fashion department. Dr. Pasricha teaches students how to use sustainable practices in producing apparel from start to finish using the circular design model where nothing goes to waste. The plan is to steer this class towards products for all disciplines, not just apparel.
“I was willing to adjust that curriculum… so each student would be working on their own product development area based on their background,” Dr. Pasricha said.
Students now have the opportunity to add sustainability studies as their minor. However, a minor can only cover so much. With enough empowerment and interest, there is potential for an entire major to be built around sustainability. With sustainability’s increasing importance, many employers are looking for people who are knowledgeable and passionate about sustainability. Both Dr. Pasricha and Professor Parr have high hopes for the minor and their students.
“Having students gain knowledge about sustainability will make them leaders and change agents for the future,” Professor Parr said.