UI College of Public Health, College of Education adopt sustainability requirement

The sustainability general education course will combine with an already existing general education course to not add additional class hours.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

The Old Capitol is pictured on April 14, 2022.

Archie Wagner, News Reporter

The University of Iowa College of Public Health and College of Education added a sustainability general education course requirement for next year’s incoming undergraduate students.

Students in the colleges will take one course from the sustainability general education offerings starting next fall. Courses were requested by UI students over the years to learn more about sustainability issues like climate change and biodiversity loss.

Isabella Mullins, UI Undergraduate Student Government director of sustainability, said at the Nov. 15 USG meeting that the colleges will implement sustainability courses in the future.

Earlier this year, USG voted to support the adoption of the sustainability general education requirement.

Mullins wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that she’s consistently heard conversations about a sustainability general education course requirement since entering the UI as a freshman in 2019, but action on the idea did not progress until the 2022 UI Strategic Plan.

“A key aspect of the plan was 75 percent of undergraduate students will take a sustainability-related course by 2027. Since this announcement, I believe this really kick-started the creation of the general education requirement across all undergraduate colleges,” she wrote.

For example, the University of Virginia started requiring a sustainability general education course in 2015.

Other colleges such as the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities structure graduation requirements by mandating that students take courses in four out of five topic areas that include the environment and science and technology to contribute to an understanding of sustainability.

RELATED: USG passes resolution supporting sustainability gen-ed at UI

Mullins wrote that the sustainability general education course requirement will change based on each UI college.

“The process for adapting the gen ed differs by college, as each college has different requirements,” Mullins wrote. “Across the board, the requirement would be added onto a previously existing general education course.”

Mullins wrote that the College of Public Health will implement the sustainability general education course next fall based on the existing model of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The number of students taking sustainability courses will increase with the change.

Director of the UI Office of Sustainability and the Environment Stratis Giannakouros said only students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — about 70 percent of all undergrad students — are currently required to take a sustainability course.

“I think that when you operationalize that a bit more, you end up thinking more about questions of equity and what are we trying to sustain and for whom,” he said. “There’s also opportunities inside the classroom, so we think about the campus as a living laboratory where students can experiment and learn, but we can also make progress toward being more sustainable.”

A sustainability general education course is not necessarily an introduction to an environment course, he said, because sustainability involves thinking about systems and the broader impacts of those systems.

“When you go into a company or a nonprofit and you look at the organization … you learn to think about what are the unintended consequences of an action? How does that entity interact with the broader community?” he said.

Giannakouros said the course requirement will help students learn about the environment and its impacts.

“Teaching those kinds of systems principles teaches you a way of thinking that transcends thinking about perhaps a particular environmental challenge,” he said.