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Leading the charge

The Shi Center rolls out its first sustainability workshop as an AASHE Hub School.

Chalk up another victory for the Shi Center for Sustainability. This summer, the Center held its first professional-development workshop since being selected as one of 13 U.S. hub institutions for sustainability by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

As part of this pilot program, whose aim is to incorporate sustainability concepts into curricular content and co-curricular programs by increasing the availability of faculty and staff  professional development opportunities, each hub school was asked to give one workshop a year focused on integrating sustainability on campus.

At Furman, the three-day Living-Learning Laboratory Faculty/Staff Development Workshop was led by Weston Dripps, Shi Center’s executive director and associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Kelly Grant Purvis, Shi Center associate director of sustainability programs. It homed in on utilizing the campus as a living-learning laboratory, a space, not necessarily on campus, where students can engage in sustainability through hands-on experience instead of just reading about it in a text book.

Purvis proposed that the workshop be open to university staff as well as faculty. “There are a lot of staff members in jobs like mine who are designing and implementing sustainability programs, and their professional contributions are important to a well-rounded, in-depth education,” she asserts.

The overall goal was to share what Furman has been doing as a set of examples, but Dripps and Purvis felt strongly that the workshop should be interactive. “We wanted it to be an open forum for everyone to share their particular expertise and ideas, as well as providing time to brainstorm and problem-solve as a group,” Purvis says. “The opportunity to have serious conversations with folks at other universities who are working toward similar goals helps everyone. Maybe someone is having a particular problem that another person in the group has already dealt with, so sharing those stories is key.”

Before the workshop, Purvis sent out a survey with 20 potential topics to the 12 participants from universities across the U.S. and Canada. “We knew we couldn’t cover them all in the given time frame, but we wanted to give participants a chance to tailor the workshop to their needs.”

Once in Greenville, the group delved into opportunities for students to collaborate with community partners and discussed the benefits, barriers, and challenges of integrating living-learning labs into the curriculum.

They also touched on administrative and financial support, how to develop and maintain resources, and assessment metrics for evaluating the success of their programs. “We worked with everyone to create action plans for their own institutions, so we could send them home with a defined purpose and a set of things to do to keep the momentum going,” Purvis explains.

Twelve participants from universities across the U.S. and Canada attended the Shi Center’s first professional-development workshop.

The group’s time was not spent entirely indoors. In addition to leading them on a bike tour of Furman’s campus, Dripps and Purvis took the attendees to downtown Greenville one night to have dinner and see Falls Park. Visiting the park gave the group an idea of what Greenville has done as a community, how that has resulted in opportunities for Furman students to get involved in community planning, and how the university continues to grow these experiences through The Furman Advantage.

By all accounts, the workshop was a smashing success. “What everybody got out of it was a lot of great relationships, a lot of great information—including a resource database—and a lot of great input specific to individual issues,” states Purvis.

In order to keep the dialogue going, Purvis plans to organize a casual meetup with Furman’s workshop participants at the AASHE conference in San Antonio this October. She and Dripps will also consult with other AASHE hub institutions to discuss the possibility of holding more workshops. “Wes and I would certainly be up for round two,” she says.

Learn more about the Shi Center for Sustainability.

 

 

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