Word on the Street: Students Conduct Sustainability Research in Germany

Associate Professor of German Antje Pfannkuchen delivers an introduction during a student presentation of original fieldwork conducted in Germany. Photo by Joe O'Neill.

Associate Professor of German Antje Pfannkuchen delivers an introduction during a student presentation of original fieldwork conducted in Germany. Photo by Joe O'Neill.

Mosaic tackles energy transition, transportation, more

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson. Video by Doug Legore & Joe O'Neill.

Dickinson students representing different majors came together this spring to conduct on-the-ground research on current sustainability efforts in Germany. They're enrolled in a Mosaic, a distinctively Dickinson, semesterlong program that combines in-class study with fieldwork, taking students out into communities—in the U.S. or abroad—to apply what they’re learned.

How it works

This spring’s Mosaic is titled Energy Pasts and Futures: Sustainability and the Energy Transition in Germany. Students took two Mosaic classes on campus this semester—one on the history and culture of Germans’ relationships to the environment and another on the concept of environmental justice. A third, an independent study class, helped the students develop their original research.

Over spring break, the class took a two-week group trip to energy-related sites in Germany. As they interacted with German students and experts in environmental law and renewable energy, the students also had an opportunity to poll everyday Germans on the ongoing energy transition.

Once back on campus, the students analyzed their findings and delivered a joint presentation about what they’d learned.

Taking it to the streets

Claire Burnet '24 (environmental studies) investigated public attitudes toward energy and sustainability education by polling parents at a public playground. The majority of parents reported that they speak with their children about environmental issues and the natural world and that they value and prioritize in-home environmental awareness and education.

With an interest in exploring careers in urban sustainability and green infrastructure, Kiara Ganther ’24 (environmental science) focused on public transportation. The Germans she polled were highly aware of public transportation options, used public and alternative transportation regularly and found it to be inexpensive, convenient, easy to use and fast. “This course has greatly changed my perspective on urban sustainability in the U.S. I have a whole new insight about renewable energy and carbon offsets,” Ganther says.

Jacob Franciscus ’23 (political science) looked into Germans' public opinion on natural gas supplied by Russia and whether Germans’ knowledge and opinion of Russian natural gas use in Germany has shifted since the start of the war in Ukraine (it has). Scarlett Davidovich ’24 (international business & management)’s research on U.S. and German attitudes toward, and knowledge of, natural gas stems from fracking projects under way in her native Pennsylvania.

“My favorite part was working with students from all different majors and hearing their different points of view,” Davidovich says. “This experience taught me a lot about teamwork. I’m looking forward to working in teams in my future career.”

Out of their comfort zones

That collaboration is a hallmark of the Mosaic program, says Heather Bedi, associate professor of environmental studies, who co-taught the Germany Mosaic with Associate Professor of German Antje Pfannkuchen. “Mosaics really reflect the best of a Dickinson education—they take an interdisciplinary liberal arts approach that’s innovative and transformative,” Bedi explains. “They allow students to understand complex issues in a global way.”

Naturally, it was sometimes challenging, notes Noah Salsich ’25, a double major in environmental studies and political science who did fieldwork on the coal industry. He admits that while it was initially a bit daunting to conduct some interviews in German during his first trip abroad, he did so without a hitch.

“Students should definitely consider taking a Mosaic,” Salsich says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s really fun.”


Published April 27, 2023