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Sustainability courses prepare students for global and local challenges

May 2014 | by sustainNU
Northwestern University has made it a priority to foster leaders in energy and climate change. Over the past several years, the University has dedicated significant resources to further develop curriculum and research in these areas. The investment is paying off. Through the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), our program offerings, student participation, and research funding continue to grow each year. Since its first ISEN course was offered in 2009, more than 1,400 students have taken one or multiple of the ISEN course offerings. According to Professors Yarrow Axford and Eric Masanet, enrollment has increased in their environmental courses. Axford states, “It seems like there’s a growing thirst to understand the science behind environmental challenges. Teaching and research in those areas are priorities and strengths of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.”

For a full list of courses, see Green Courses compiled by ISEN. For a full list of environmental degrees, visit the Majors and Minors page.

Assistant Professor Yarrow Axford

Earth and Planetary Sciences; Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Yarrow Axford

What environmental courses do you teach?

I teach courses at all levels – from freshman seminars to graduate-level classes – that address the physical science underlying a wide range of environmental issues. Several of my courses focus on Earth’s climate system and the science of climate change. For example, I teach Topics in Contemporary Energy and Climate Change (EARTH 342/ISEN 410), which focuses on sustainable energy and how burning of fossil fuels and other human activities affect climate.

How long have you been teaching environmental courses at NU?
Four years.

What is one impactful message from an environmental course that you teach?
Ask questions and when learning about climate change, feel empowered instead of overwhelmed. My sense is that many students appreciate having an opportunity to really dig into the science of climate change, and to ask probing questions about a complex topic that is often presented as very black-and-white. I hope that students ultimately feel empowered as they learn more about how our planet works, even though many of the environmental challenges we face are daunting.

What is one action you encourage to benefit the environment?
Educate yourself.

Associate Professor Eric Masanet
Mechanical Engineering; Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science

Eric Masanet

What environmental courses do you teach?
I teach three environmental courses at NU. One is an introductory course on sustainability, titled Introduction to Sustainability: Challenges and Solutions (ISEN 210), which is open to students from all colleges and schools and is a core course for the ISEN Undergraduate Certificate. The other two are engineering courses. My course on life cycle assessment, called Special Topics: Quantitative Methods in LifeCycle Analysis (CHEM_ENG 395), focuses on methods for calculating environmental footprints. Lastly, my course on sustainable manufacturing systems (CHEM_ENG  489) covers energy and resource efficient production strategies.

How long have you been teaching environmental courses at NU?
Two years.

What is one impactful message from an environmental course that you teach?
Every choice we make leads to environmental consequences, and it's important to understand those consequences in order to make choices that make sense for each of us, but that also collectively lead to steady environmental improvements in our lives.  

What is one action you encourage to benefit the environment?
Taking public transportation and biking, instead of driving. Reducing transportation fuel demand is critical for reducing nearly every pressing environmental impact.

Distinguished Senior Lecturer, Professor, and Director of Undergraduate Studies Mark Witte
Economics; Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Mark Witte

What environmental courses do you teach?
I teach Introduction to Environmental Economics (ECON 270), which assesses the value of environmental amenities and discusses the extraction of natural resources, energy generation, and public policy. I also teach Environmental and Natural Resource Economics (ECON 370), which focuses on the externalities and the role of property rights, pollution, waste disposal, common property problems, renewable resource management, nonrenewable resource use and depletion, recyclable resources, water allocation, and management of public lands.

How long have you been teaching environmental courses at NU?
About 15 years.

What is one impactful message from an environmental course that you teach?
The most important thing is to get prices right.

What is one action you encourage to benefit the environment?
Be informed.

Assistant Professor Keith Woodhouse
History; Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Keith Woodhouse

What environmental courses do you teach?
I teach American Environmental History (ENVR_POL 390-23), which surveys American history from the colonial era to the present and Wilderness in American History (ENVR_POL 390-24), which reviews the history of wilderness in America, both in the broad sense of wilderness as a general term meaning “pristine” or “uninhabited” nature and in the specific sense of wilderness as the highest level of protection for public lands managed by the federal government.

How long have you been teaching environmental courses at NU?
One Year.

What is one impactful message from an environmental course that you teach?
When you look at history, look at the world as having an active role, not just as scenery or a backdrop. Nature made things happen; it shaped human history.

What is one action you encourage to benefit the environment?
Vegetarianism. The meat industry is a huge source of environmental destruction.