GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 18-9
Presentation Time: 10:25 AM


PIETSCH, Carlie, Geology Department, San Jose State University, 1 Washington Square, Duncan Hall, San Jose, CA 95192-0001 and METZGER, Ellen P., San Jose State University, Department of Geology, San Jose, CA 95192-0102

We describe an Earth System Science course that highlights sustainability frameworks during course projects that connect the Earth system’s five interacting spheres. A five-week introduction to the atmosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and cosmosphere transitions to four class projects and additional labs that address carbon sequestration, ocean acidification, natural hazards, and sustainable product innovation. We reflect on successes and challenges in supporting students' creative problem solving, establishing remote teams, and stretching their self-perceived abilities through these projects. An award from VentureWell to integrate sustainability and entrepreneurship into coursework and a resulting faculty community of practice of awardees at other institutions supported this work.

Through readings and conversations we explored criteria used to define sustainability including planetary boundaries, the UN sustainable development goals, and doughnut economics. To establish trust and promote creative freedom in a remote classroom we focused on class values and effective communication. For the sustainable product innovation project, students were tasked with creatively rethinking consumer goods and services and quantitatively redesigning them using environmental, economic, and societal sustainability criteria. Students developed system maps illustrating the life-cycle of a product from raw materials to disposal and used this map to brainstorm solutions to improve sustainability. They quantitatively evaluated how combinations of novel materials, manufacturing, and transportation could reduce product energy consumption. A final decision matrix balanced the team's business and sustainability goals. Students enjoyed exploring these uncertainties, where they defined the terms to the “right answer.” However, they also self-reported lacking the creativity or business skills to continue the work beyond the classroom. In the future, we plan to integrate more design and business role models and hold meetings in a makerspace to spark creativity through prototyping. Overall, students valued the authentic focus on sustainability and one student commented that this was the best geoscience course they had ever taken.