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 The Penstemon Project

Posted on Friday, Nov. 5, 2010

The Penstemon is one of the most beautiful and most prolific wildflowers in North America. With a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors, there are over 250 known species. Like the Penstemon, sustainability comes in many different forms, spanning the spectrum of curricula. Which is why the Penstemon Project is a fitting title for Santa Clara's initiative to integrate sustainability across the curriculum.

The Penstemon Project is a faculty-led initiative spearheaded by environmental studies lecturer John Farnsworth, along with ESI director Leslie Gray and political science professor Dennis Gordon. In 2007, the three headed to San Diego for training from The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), to judge whether Santa Clara would want to adopt a cross-curriculum sustainability movement. Stemming from Northern Arizona University's Ponderosa Project, AASHE now trains faculty from around the country in cross-curriculm sustainability efforts.

The trio came back really excited and knew they had to find a way to integrate it at SCU. “We want to fuse the whole education at Santa Clara University with elements of sustainability education, so that we’re building a culture of sustainability throughout the university,” Farnsworth said.

Despite the $36,000 price tag, which included speakers, meals and training materials, the Dean's Office, along with different schools and colleges thought it was a worthwhile program and provided funding for an initial training session in June of 2007.

The Penstemon training workshops are not simply about learning pedagogy, Farnsworth explained. "It's connecting to see that, through training, we're building a community of scholars that are going to resource each other around issues of sustainability," he said.

During Penstemon training, faculty hear from experts in ecology and go on a historic ecology walk around campus. Past Penstemon trainees give feedback on what has worked for them, which also exemplifies the wide range of ways to incorporate sustainability into lessons and units. Finally, faculty are asked to redesign one class to include a sustainability element, but most choose to modify more of their classes. "We make it clear that we’re not here to tell the faculty what to teach or how to teach, that we have invited them as experts in their own fields who probably have as much to say about sustainability as we do,” Farnsworth said.

Farnsworth plans on training 45 new faculty this year in three different workshops. His biggest challege is recruiting new participants. "One of the things we realized pretty early on is that we picked all the low-hanging fruit right away, all the professors more likely to have an interest in sustainability." To intice those faculty who might not be "tree-huggers," Farnsworth changed the workshop from the week after grades are due to days during the academic year, when faculty are more likely to be on campus, not out of the country or focusing on research. He also has future plans for more experiential education and outdoor learning opportunities. Also, all particpants recieve a free iPad with all workshop materials, since all workshops are paperless.

The Penstemon Project, which is jointly sponsored by the Ignatian Center and the Environmental Studies Institute, not only builds on Santa Clara's long list of sustainability initiatives, but furthers the culture of sustainability on campus, a shift which Farnsworth calls "evolutionary. I think [sustainability] is becoming more and more engrained in the Santa Clara University culture, but I think we have a long way to until we have a total integrated apporach to sustainability," he said.

Upcoming workshops will be held on January 20, February 16, and May 9, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information and workshop application.

Interview by Chris Woodhouse, '10, Sustainability Intern.
Article by Emily Orbanek, '11, Sustainability Intern.

Tags: Curriculum, Education and Research, Program Highlights