Last updated 3/12/10 at 2:07pm
The inventory of environmental subjects currently listed on the relevant OpenCourseWare page is impressive. But, we need to create new educational pathways through the Institute, adopt an explicit curriculum framework, and take full advantage of our teaching resources. We are confident that we can harness existing faculty capabilities and integrate the many disparate teaching efforts scattered across the Institute by re-organizing our current academic offerings. With only the modest addition of one or two new core subjects (and the appointment of one new faculty member) we think MIT will be able to offer an exciting and educationally compelling program matching anything in the Environment and Sustainability field currently offered by comparable academic institutions (even though we are advocating a minor rather than a major).
While some universities have opted to create Environment and Sustainability majors, (or even departments and schools), it makes more sense at MIT, given our approach to undergraduate education, to encourage students to add a minor. At MIT, undergraduate majors are expected to delve deeply into a single field (often completing some graduate level coursework). To broaden what students learn–without contradicting our desired focus on in-depth learning in a single discipline or department–MIT encourages students to add a thematic or cross-cutting minor as well (although some students take a second major).
N.B. For an inventory of what our competitors are doing in this field (see pages 17–24 of the 2007 Zuber Committee Report, "Creating a Sustainable Earth: An MIT Research, Teaching and Public Service Initiative for Understanding, Restoring and Managing the Earth".
The recent Report of the MIT Environmental Research Council (Prospectus for an Initiative on Global Environment at MIT) identifies "six inaugural areas of research emphasis" that MIT hopes to build up in the future: (1) Future of the Oceans; (2) Ecosystem Resilience; (3) Changing Climate; (4) Rethinking Water; (5) Sustainable Cities; and (6) Synthetics in the Environment. We want the new Minor in Environment and Sustainability to support and benefit from this research thrust. We suggest three ways of accomplishing this. First, we intend for the curriculum in the Environment and Sustainability Minor to prepare students to work effectively as members of research teams in these priority areas (through UROP, or as undergraduate RAs or as graduate students if they continue their studies at MIT). So, we have tried to ensure that the key elements of the curriculum in the Minor dovetail with the six priority areas that will shape the Institute's research agenda. Second, we want to be sure that faculty members working in each of these areas incorporate what they learn into the classes included in the Undergraduate Minor. Finally, we suggest that the governance of MIT's Global Environmental Initiative be closely linked with faculty oversight of the new Minor.
The Undergraduate Minor we are proposing includes (1) five transdisciplinary core subjects (of which students will be required to complete three) or 36 units, (2) three classes from one of nine sub-specialties built around sets of existing subjects covering important themes (a minimum of 27 units), and (3) a 12-unit project requirement that can be met in a number of ways.
The subjects in the core represent five of the basic elements of the emerging sustainability science field: terrestrial and aquatic ecology; climate and oceans; institutions, markets and the management of common pool resources; public health; and the design of sustainable cities in an urbanizing environment. These will provide students with the initial background they need to understand each of the six research challenges identified by the ERC.
MIT offers undergraduate classes in four of these areas suitable as core subjects (although we hope that these subjects will continue to be revised to reflect expanded faculty collaboration). If the proposed Minor is approved, and fundraising proceeds for the Institute's Global Environmental Initiative, it would desirable to identify several hundred thousand dollars a year for the next several years to support continued curriculum development to enhance the interdisciplinary dimensions of the core subjects in the Minor. Three of the five subjects listed are already offered every year. One has recently been developed with support from the MIT Energy Initiative. The fifth core subject needs to be developed next academic year (possibly by merging elements of several existing classes). So, in the short term, curriculum development funds are not required to launch the proposed Minor in 2010–2011. Four of the five proposed core subjects are already offered by a variety of departments.
The five core subjects we have in mind are:
This is an existing interdepartmental class taught by Professor Sallie Chisholm and Professor Edward Delong. The class presents the fundamentals of ecology including the co-evolution of the biosphere, geosphere, atmosphere and ocean. Hydrological, carbon and nitrogen cycles are explained along with the flows of energy and materials through the ecosystems.
The class provides students with a scientific foundation of anthropogenic climate change and an introduction to climate models. It focuses on fundamental physical processes that shape climate (e.g., solar variability, orbital mechanics, greenhouse gases, atmospheric and oceanic circulation, and volcanic and soil aerosols) and on evidence for past and present climate change. It also discusses material consequences of climate change, including sea level change, variations in precipitation, vegetation, storminess, and the incidence of disease and examines the science behind proposed mitigation and adaptation ideas. It is taught by Professor Kerry Emanuel and Professor Sara Seager.
This is a new class that will be taught for the first time this year by Professor Judith Layzer. The focus is on the politics of making local, state, national and international decisions on energy and the environment. In subsequent years, the focus of the class might be expanded through the involvement of an environmental economist or lawyer.
This would be a modification of an existing subject offered in Biological Engineering. The current class is taught by Professor William Thilly and Dr. Robert McCunney. The class examines important risk factors for common diseases in the general environment and analyzes the history of changes in common disease rates. Special attention is paid to environmental sources and pathways of human exposure.
This would be a new interdisciplinary class taught by faculty from the Engineering School and the Architecture and Planning School. The focus would be on ways of designing more efficient and less environmentally damaging infrastructure in the largest cities of the world.
In addition to completing three of the five core subjects, students enrolled in the Undergraduate Minor would be required to complete at least 27 units in one of up to a dozen sub-specialties (based primarily outside the departments in which they majoring).
We hope to gain initial approval for nine sub-specialties hosted by various departments or schools (or clusters of departments). Host departments would be responsible for ensuring that at least three of the listed subjects will be offered every year. The nine sub-specialties listed below are built entirely around subjects that are already offered. Over time, we would expect the faculty committee (i.e., the new Institute-wide Environment and Sustainability Council described below) that will oversee the Minor to revise the list of subjects in each sub-specialty and to encourage more collaboration among departments in offering each sub-specialty. To begin, however, it is helpful to have the sub-specialties based on one or two departments since we do not have extensive curriculum development money so we have to rely on the departments interested in each area to ensure that appropriate classes are offered. We believe more interdisciplinary collaboration will emerge over time.
Students will be permitted to petition to create a self-designed sub-specialty that would have to be approved by the new Institute-wide Environment and Sustainability Council (described below). The Council will be responsible for reviewing and approving the list of sub-specialties and the subjects in them every year.
We want to address the long-standing Institute concern about "overlap." The Committee on the Undergraduate Program wants to be certain that students do not double-count subjects in both their major and their minor. So, students in the Environment and Sustainability Minor would not be allowed to meet the 3 subject 27-unit minimum, sub-specialty requirement with subjects that count toward their Major. They would also be encouraged to take core subjects outside their home department (although we think they should be allowed to take one of the core subjects in their major department if that specific subject happens to be required by their Major). We also expect many of the students in the Minor to meet the project requirement (described below) by completing 12 units in their Major. Thus, the Minor will requires five out of seven subjects to not be counted toward a student's undergraduate Major.
Initial sub-specialties will include:
A list of all these subjects can be downloaded in PDF form here.
Any student enrolled in the Undergraduate Minor will be required to complete a 12-unit project requirement. The project requirement reflects MIT's commitment to hands-on learning as a complement to classroom study. This can be accomplished in several ways. First, a student can take a field studies or laboratory class. Possibilities include: 12.120 (Environmental Earth Science Field Course), 12.159 (Sedimentary and Surficial Geology Investigations), 12.119 (Analysis of Environmental Materials), 12.335 (Experimental Atmospheric Chemistry), 1.101 (Introduction to Civil and Environmental Engineering Design I), 1.102 (Introduction to Civil and Environmental Engineering Design II), 1.106 (Environmental Fluid Transport Processes and Hydrology Laboratory), and 1.107 (Environmental Chemistry and Biology Laboratory).
Second, a student can complete one or more UROP projects (for which they receive 12 units of credit) as long as these assignments incorporate the preparation of a reflective paper reflecting on the experience of applying the ideas and methods they have learned in the Minor. The same might hold for a summer internship followed by an independent study focused on a faculty-guided review of the student's internship experience applying what they learned in the Minor.
Third, a student could complete a thesis with an Environment and Sustainability theme (presumably as part of their Major) as long as their thesis involves first-hand data gathering and includes an effort to think through the implications of theory for practice.
If a student prefers to complete this requirement under the direction of a faculty member from outside their Major department, he or she can request assistance from the new Institute-wide Environment and Sustainability Council to identify an appropriate faculty advisor or gain admittance to a project-related course or a research activity in another department. If students completing a thesis or a project in their home department want help identifying additional faculty members to guide their theses or finding appropriate UROP projects, the Council will help identify faculty from the FENS membership list willing to play this role.
The Public Service Center (PSC) can serve as a resource for students enrolled in the Undergraduate Minor to identify and complete their hands on experience. The Service Learning Program can support students and faculty with the incorporation of projects directly into courses, with approval from the Environment and Sustainability Council. Additionally, students can apply for PSC Fellowships and Internships to work on capacity building service projects around the world. Finally, field work may be supported through other PSC programs, including the IDEAS Competition and PSC grants. Projects reflecting the Environment and Sustainability theme may fulfill the field study requirement.
A new Institute-wide Environment And Sustainability Council (ESC) would oversee the Minor. It would coordinate with an expanded version of the current Environmental Research Council (selected by the Provost) to ensure a close connection between education and research activities. It would also report to the existing Inter-School Education Council (ISEC) as is the case with MIT's Energy Initiative. (The Energy Education Task Force coordinates with the Energy Council and is overseen by the ISEC). The ESC will be responsible for academic oversight and administrative coordination of the Minor. Each of the five Deans will appoint two faculty members from their School to serve on the ESC. In addition, the Provost will name an Associate Provost to serve on the Committee. These eleven faculty members will elect a chair and an assistant chair. Whatever financial resources are administered by the Council will be administered by the "home" department of the chair of the ESC. The Council will (1) take responsibility for monitoring the content and the teaching of core subjects; (2) manage funds to cover teaching assistants assigned to help present the core subjects; (3) oversee the annual listing of sub-specialties and the subjects covered in each sub-specialty (and review and approve student petitions to create individualized sub-specialties); (4) advocate for the addition of new subjects, new sub-specialties and the hiring of additional faculty with background and interest in environment and sustainability; (5) support and provide funding for student activities organized by Sustainability@MIT and other student organizations; (6) host a campus-wide lecture series each semester to draw student attention to the Environment and Sustainability Minor; and (7) maintain a web listing of all FENS faculty, classes and campus activities.
One concern about programs that are not housed exclusively in a single department is whether or not the subjects listed will be offered each year. The Minor seeks to avoid this problem by listing more than three subjects in each sub-specialty. So, if a faculty member is on leave for a year or a department is going through a faculty transition, we will have sufficient redundancy to ensure that each sub-specialty is covered. Also, the ESC is sure to include new subjects each year that will fit under various sub-specialties. It will be the responsibility of the ESC to review all the possibilities and refresh subject listings in each sub-specialty each year. With regard to the core subjects in the new Minor, since students only have to take three of the five, we should be able to manage if one is not offered in a given year. On the other hand, we are proposing that over time, all of these subjects be team taught and offered annually. Since it takes only one faculty member to ensure continuity from year to year, we can add new faculty from one of several departments to each team as needed. Again, it will be the responsibility of the ESC to ensure that the necessary core subjects in the Minor are offered every year.
Many students will have advisors in their Major who know about and can help them answer questions regarding the Minor, but some may not. The Council will need to ensure that students can get their registration questions answered and find the advice they need with regard to their studies in Environment and Sustainability or with regard to career planning. We propose to accomplish these objectives in three ways. First, there will need to be an Administrative Assistant for the Environment and Sustainability Minor who is supervised by the Chair of the ESC. This person should help the Minor maintain a highly visible web presence and be available to answer student questions on a drop-in basis. Second, the FENS which includes faculty from all the relevant departments and schools will appoint a faculty advisor in each department ready and able to assist students. The FENS will also invite student representatives to its monthly meetings. Third, we urge that student representatives be appointed each year to the ESC. These students would serve as "peer advisors" for students interested in learning more about the Minor. Finally, students who want an additional advisor in the Minor will be able to ask the ESC or the FENS Coordinating Council to identify an appropriate advisor for them. This will take the responsibility for assigning "official" advisors off the shoulders of Department Heads and assign it to the FENS. These are the Institute faculty members most supportive of the idea of creating an Environment and Sustainability Minor. They cover all five schools and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
Based on a survey recently completed by Sustainability@MIT, we expect 40–60 students to enroll in the new Minor within the first year. Based on student interest in Terrascope and recent enrollments in 1.018J, we would expect to achieve a steady state of 80–120 (i.e., 20–30 students from each freshman class who remain with the program for four years).
Terrascope is a freshman learning community in which teams of students work to find solutions to complex environmental problems and to communicate about those problems with a wide variety of audiences in multiple formats. In addition to learning how to acquire the scientific and technical expertise necessary to approach such problems, Terrascope students develop an appreciation of the social, economic and political aspects of the related sustainability issues. They also learn how to communicate their ideas and solutions to many kinds of audiences, including scientists, politicians, and the general public. At present, Terrascope students go on to major in disciplines across the Institute, where they exhibit strong engagement with environmental and sustainability issues. Thus, we assume that Terrascope might be a natural starting point for students who want to pursue the Minor in Environment and Sustainability. Students in the Minor would not be required to participate in the Terrascope Program.
The Terrascope academic program is centered on three subjects: 12.000 (Solving Complex Problems), 1.016 (Design for Complex Environmental Issues), and SP.360 (Terrascope Radio):
12.000, Solving Complex Problems, also known as Mission 20xx (Fall, 9 units): In the fall Terrascope class, students are presented with a real-world problem that is highly complex in nature and that cannot be addressed by a purely scientific or technical solution. The class is intended to teach students how to break down such a problem, work together as a team, and integrate information from a wide diversity of sources. By the end of the semester the students, as a group, must come up with a wide-ranging solution to the year's theme problem and communicate that solution via a comprehensive website. They then present and defend their solution in front of a panel of experts brought to MIT for the occasion, as well as MIT students, faculty and interested members of the public. The presentation is webcast live and archived for future viewing.
1.016, Design for Complex Environmental Issues (Spring, 9 units): This spring class extends and reinforces Terrascope students' learning experience, both in intellectual content and in the teamwork and problem-solving process, while giving them experience in designing and creating physical devices, systems and models. Students split into multiple teams, each one focused on some scientific or technical aspect of the year's theme problem. They pursue that specialized area in detail, developing specific solutions, methods or prototype devices, depending on the nature of each team's focus. Then the class as a whole transforms a public space (generally Lobby 13) into a "marketplace of ideas," in which each team can present its work in a setting that provides visitors with context about the nature and extent of the larger problem that the class has been addressing. The presentations take place in an open, public event, where members of an expert panel , along with any interested members of the MIT community and the general public, are free to move from team to team to learn about the teams' work and question team members in detail.
SP.360, Terrascope Radio (Spring, 12 units, CI-H, HASS): In Terrascope Radio, teams of students create radio programming about the year's theme topic, a process that requires them to come to a deeper understanding of the topic's broader social, political and economic issues and broadens their communication skills to include another medium and audience. Because most students have not had much experience listening to radio in an analytic way, much of class time is spent on critical listening to, and analysis of, a wide variety of radio pieces. Students work to understand what makes these pieces effective, and how to create dynamic, interesting, engaging and informative radio. Concurrently, in lab sessions they learn the technical details of sound gathering and audio production. They are issued professional-quality, portable recording equipment and audio-editing software, and through a series of short assignments they learn how to gather sound, conduct interviews, select and arrange clips, write and voice scripts, and mix sound to create a coherent piece. They then use these skills to develop and create a 15–20 minute production about some aspect of the year's Terrascope topic. In the process they visit sites that are important to the topic and meet people who are directly affected by it, gathering their stories along with the perspectives of local officials and specialists. They write and voice a script that weaves these elements together, along with music and ambient sound, and create a finished, professional-quality production. The final program is broadcast on WMBR and then made available for distribution to public and community radio stations throughout the country.