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Friday, July 31, 2015

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MSU receives sustainability grant

Packaging, engineering, English and computer science — sustainability isn’t something one normally would associate with these fields, but thanks to a new federal grant, it is a concept that will be creeping into all kinds of Spartan course loads.

After applying for a grant from the U.S. Department of Education this summer, the university received word about two weeks ago that MSU had been granted about $628,000 to develop a sustainability specialization on campus.

Three years in the making, the project kicked off this fall with its first class, Introduction to Sustainability, said Laurie Thorp, co-director of the specialization and director of the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment.

“We were thrilled beyond belief to get the grant,” Thorp said. “There was a lot of resistance and skepticism (at MSU) around what we were trying to create, so it was really affirming to see these dollars coming from the (U.S.) Department of Education and to get that support.”

Money from the grant, which came from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, will be used for a sustainability-based study abroad program to Australia, a 10-day study away program at Isle Royale, Mich., the introduction to sustainability courses themselves, learning programs at the Student Organic Farm and environmental stewardship training across campus, Thorp said.

Sustainability is an issue that affects everyone, said Jim Lucas, assistant to the dean of undergraduate studies and specialization consultant.

“The specialization is organized in a way that different majors can come together to talk about sustainability and get something out of it that helps them,” Lucas said. “It’s a great add-on for any major.”

Last week, the introduction class to the specialization traveled to the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center to help conduct a waste sort. Activities such as these provide students with a hands-on experience while also advancing university research, said Ruth Daoust, manager of the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center.

“It provides an out-of-the-classroom experience for the students,” Daoust said. “(This specialization) can bleed over into different disciplines and colleges. It can morph into anything.”

Sustainability isn’t just about the environment anymore, Thorp said. Instead, the environment is one of the three main tiers of the concept — the others being economic vitality and social equity.

“It’s time for us to say that sustainability is no longer a buzz word,” she said. “We have to get over trying to define it and look at what’s necessary to sustain the planet.”

Examining a new perspective has been an advantage for many students taking the introduction class, said Kris Martin, interdisciplinary studies in social science and environmental policy and political science senior.

“A lot of the students are packaging students, for example, and this lets them break into the social level,” Martin said.

“A lot of them are also realizing that (knowledge about sustainability) is a good thing to have in the workforce. Sustainability isn’t only for people in environmental policy but people of all degrees, whether they’re living a sustainable lifestyle or using it in their job.”

Students adding this kind of knowledge to their résumé most likely will reap the rewards in the job market, Thorp said.

“No doubt, if a student can add that to their portfolio, if a student can say ‘I understand that, and I know how to communicate it or manage it,’ you’re going to have an edge,” she said.

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