Sunday, February 15, 2009

The University as a Laboratory

This weekend I (among several other ETP students) attended the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) meeting (1). Sponsored by UT, the goal of the meeting was to bring together college students whom all have made personal commitments to change, ranging in focus from energy and climate change to global health and poverty alleviation. CGIU awards students for their commitments and establishes a dialogue in which students can exchange advice on how they were able to bring focused action to their campuses.

I participated in discussions on Energy and Climate Change, with a focus on universities as a laboratory in which renewable technologies, sustainable building designs and new curriculum can be vetted. Certainly universities are places with good minds and often times are well funded, making them ideal places to test such practices. With over 4,000 colleges/universities and 17 million students in the U.S., there is great potential for these institutions to spur innovation and make substantial decreases in energy use (2).

One stream of discussion I would like to focus on is making adjustments to curriculum to include issues of sustainability, energy and an aspect of community service/action. I am particularly passionate about incorporating hands on, community service/action into university course requirements. In high school, having attended a Quaker school with community service requirements, I saw the impact several hundred students can have on a community and its' residents. If only a fraction of higher education institutions enacted mandatory service, with some course credits provided, I imagine the impact of several million young people on their communities would be great and would establish a connection with the townspeople that is often missing from the university experience.

It would be best if the immediate images associated with community service, such as cleaning up an empty lot or pulling weeds, were replaced with winterizing low income homes, partnering with local businesses to promote recycling efforts, organizing food drives or petitioning local governments to design and implement more sustainable transit systems. Again, the potential impact is huge when considering the possibility of millions of students taking to these actions.

So, here I would like to conduct an informal survey.

Would you embrace a requirement for service in your undergraduate institution?
and for those who would be opposed, why?



Sam Brown said...

I like the idea and would be for it. It seems it would not only be a good way to provide the labor needed to effectively institute these programs, but would also be a great way to educate students and create awareness. I do think that making this mandatory could create some opposition and weaken the idea. Instead, perhaps the way to go about it is to allow students to choose this as an option for course credits or tuition discounts kind of like Obama’s campaign idea to provide educational funds in exchange for community service.

TravisR said...

I am a graduate student but I am against this sort of activity. I found that my own undergraduate degree was lacking in sufficient time devoted to areas more related to my own areas of work as it is and would not be in favor more dilution of core curriculm in favor of unrelated work.

Michael E. Webber, Ph.D. said...

Nate, I didn't know you went to a Quaker school! Next time, go ahead and create a survey with surveymonkey or some other service so we can get some real answers! I think a service activity should be acknowledged and credited, but I'm not sure it should be required. For undergraduate engineers at UT, there are already so many requirements it's hard for many students to graduate in 4 years. Adding in one more requirement might make it even tougher to do so.