‘A Sense of Place’
Valley & Ridge trains a sustainable lens on Dickinson
September 29, 2009
In May, eight faculty members and three observers participated in the Valley & Ridge Study Group, an intensive workshop focused on building sustainability themes into the curriculum.
When Michael Fratantuono, associate professor of international business & management (INBM), began planning a course on sustainability issues in business, he pulled together case studies from Harvard Business School for students to review and discuss.
After participating in the Valley & Ridge Study Group in May, however, he chucked most of what he had collected and decided to focus on Dickinson instead. Valley & Ridge is an intensive summer workshop developed by the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education for a select number of faculty interested in building sustainability themes into their curriculum.
“I was thinking I would do some work on business strategy then perhaps … look at examples of what different companies were doing in the U.S. and around the world,” he said. “Valley & Ridge really helped me get focused.”
The result is the 300-level course, Going Green: Challenges and Opportunities, team-taught by Fratantuono and Ken Shultes, interim vice president for campus operations. Its premise: Fratantuono, Shultes and the students are members of a “consulting firm” named BRush-Green Consulting tasked with analyzing and evaluating Dickinson’s sustainability strategies and implementation. At the end of the semester, BRush-Green Consulting will present its recommendations to the college.
Setting the stage
According to Sarah Brylinsky, sustainability education coordinator, the Valley & Ridge Study Group’s emphasis on Dickinson and the surrounding landscape was intentional. “The main idea is to provide a sense of place that is lacking in the curriculum,” she said.
She explained how the area’s geology and climate have significant effects on the college’s culture and daily rhythms. “Our lives would be different in Siberia or in southern California,” she said. “The weather affects our energy consumption and the way we transport ourselves from place to place. We don’t talk about how urban and rural development has spread out. We don’t talk about our local flora and fauna and whether we’re able to provide ourselves with food. Yet that’s a big part of who we are and, therefore, how we should learn.”
Modeled after the Piedmont and Ponderosa projects at Emory and Northern Arizona universities, respectively, Valley & Ridge focuses on three elements—situating sustainability within that sense of place, providing faculty with living-laboratory opportunities on campus and throughout the area and building an environmental sensibility and awareness into the curriculum.
A radical shift
During the course of two-and-a-half days, eight faculty participants and three observers toured the college’s farm and biodiesel plant, scrambled over boulders and scree at Waggoner’s Gap and explored land management at the Florence Jones Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary.
Between field trips, faculty members from the biology, geology, mathematics, environmental studies and community studies departments gave presentations to provide context and background. Julie Vastine ’03, director of the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM), and Assistant Provost Shalom Staub also discussed community partnerships and service-learning opportunities.
Valley & Ridge was a transformative experience for everyone involved, Brylinsky said. “Faculty came in knowing that they wanted to change or develop a specific course, so we had several [opportunities] for the group to reflect and synthesize. The level of participation exceeded our expectations—they changed their curriculum radically.”
For example, Amy Farrell, professor of American studies and women’s & gender studies, plans to revamp her Mass Media and American Culture course to address not just advertising and consumption but also their environmental impact. Alex Bates, assistant professor of Japanese language and literature, is delving into ecocriticism for his new course, Nature in Japanese Literature and Film. Dan Cozort, associate professor of religion, also is developing a new course, Buddhism and the Environment.
As for Fratantuono, he’s eager to see how his students respond to the challenge of using Dickinson as a case study. He also anticipates that his colleagues in the international studies and INBM departments will take a closer look at sustainability.
“We’ll begin to see different faculty incorporate the theme of sustainability in their courses,” he said. “The whole notion of corporate social responsibility will begin to take root. It has to be an integrated approach, and I think Dickinson is extremely well positioned to be thinking about that fusion of globalization and sustainability.”