Sustainability Semester Questions and Answers

Q. What is Sustainability?
A. Sustainability is a way of life that allows us to live well without degrading the ecological, social and economic systems on which future generations will rely.

Q. What are the goals of the Sustainability Semester?
A. The overarching goals of the Sustainability Semester are:

  • Foster a strong living and learning community. The students will face issues regarding their consumption and its impacts on the natural environment.  Through the shared experience of low-impact living, they will become more conscious of their personal and collective consumption patterns. They will learn to function as a small community of shared values, balancing individual and communal interests and needs.
  • Engage students in the theory and practice of sustainability through academic study and practical experience. Students will take academic courses in common, and, through various field and experiential components, will learn the skills to put theory into practice.
  • Develop and maintain partnerships and collaborations with diverse community groups, organizations, and individuals to extend student learning beyond the campus community.  Through their work with community partners, the students will learn and practice new skills, as well as build meaningful relationships with our North Country neighbors.
  • Expose students to the theory and practice of sustainability through diverse curricular and co-curricular opportunities, both on and off campus

Q. Where did the idea for a Sustainability Semester come from?
A. It developed from St. Lawrence University’s very successful and popular Adirondack Semester. Embracing voluntary simplicity and living as sustainably as possible while pursuing academic study and developing a strong community are among the transforming components of the ADK semester.  While the ADK semester is focused on living in and learning about nature through the lens of the Adirondack park, the Sustainability Semester focuses on learning about sustainability while living on the sustainability semester “homestead”, growing our own food, and developing a strong community.

Q. What will students study on the Sustainability Semester?
A. Students carry a full, 4-credit academic load.  The semester features courses taught by faculty from a variety of disciplines that rotate through the program on an annual basis, in addition to a “core” course which includes an urban residential component.  The courses offered examine the ecological, political, social and economic aspects of sustainability, but the core course is structured specifically to unite both the residential and experiential aspects of the semester program.  Together the classes address environmental justice, alternative transportation, food production/processing/access, community planning/design, green building, renewable energy systems, art and ecology. 

Q. What is the core-course?
A. The core-course, ‘Sustainability Studies’, focuses on integrating knowledge and methods from a variety of academic disciplines and is composed of learning modules focused on key topics, such as climate change, threats to our food systems, alternative energy, environmental justice, green building and alternative transportation.  These modules are planned in careful coordination with the topics being covered by the Semester’s other courses.  This approach reflects our belief that the best teaching and learning are holistic in nature.  In addition to providing content modules, the core course spurs students to reflect on and bring together the various strands of the semester, which encompass the academic, experiential, and community building. The core course also offers opportunities for students to learn, apply, and analyze key components of sustainability education and to translate knowledge into practice.

Q. What is goal of the urban sustainability component?
A. A key part of the core-course and of the program overall is the Urban Sustainability Component, an intensive two-week trip and project that is based in Boston.  Because environmental justice issues are an integral component in the larger context of sustainability, and because much of the world’s population lives in urban areas, we want the program’s students to understand that their experience living in a rural area – blessed with plentiful rain, rich soil and open space – is not representative of sustainable living.  The purpose of the urban component is to help the students broaden their perspectives and to provide a useful comparative framework for the remainder of their coursework and beyond. 

Q. Why was Boston chosen for the urban component?
A. Boston is in the Northeast which helps to minimize our travel carbon footprint; it is a good-size, but not overwhelming, city with smaller adjacent cities that have sustainability goals and many green innovations. Also, there are numerous St. Lawrence alumni in the Boston area with whom we have relationships and who have already offered and provided much assistance.

Q. What will the experiential learning component be like?
A. The students’ experiential learning opportunities build on the rich agricultural heritage of the St. Lawrence River Valley and the area’s community of environmental educators, farmers, local living activists, green builders, artisans, and others.  At the Sustainability Semester site, the students build structures needed by the program, including possible small housing units designed to minimize environmental impact, and infrastructure used for agricultural season extension or related to alternative energy systems.  With our semester located on land leased from Cornell Cooperative Extension our students interact with CCE’s high tunnel season extension structure, livestock herds and the CCE staff and educators.  As the students learn to live simply and sustainably, they grow, process/preserve and cook their own food, and, when possible, source additional supplies locally.  In many respects the basis for the entire urban component is experiential learning.

Q. The Sustainability Semester will occur in the Spring semester, much of which is winter in the North Country, how can the students grow their own food and what will they eat?
A. Although winters are, indeed, long in the North Country, it is still possible, with the use of season extension structures such as high tunnels, green houses, etc. to have fresh greens and other vegetables most months of the year.  In addition, we freeze, store and preserve vegetables as well as meat that we grow or obtain locally.

Q. How many students will participate in the Sustainability Semester?
A. The program can support 12-14 students.  Our first cohort of students, Spring of 2013, was 8 undergraduates selected from across a variety of disciplines and class years.

Q. During the Adirondack Semester students live far from campus, off the grid, in yurts, and don’t use their cars and computers. How will the Sustainability Semester be different?
A. Unlike the ADK semester, students on the Sustainability Semester will have access to technology and more “amenities” (for example, flush toilets, showers) than we choose to have in the woods at the ADK semester.  Also, see the answer to the next question.

Q. Since the Sustainability Semester site is within biking distance, (i.e. relatively close) to campus, how will it feel like a true off campus semester program as opposed to just a residence a little further from campus?
A. Recall that one of the goals of the semester is to: “Foster a strong living and learning community. The students face issues regarding their consumption and its impacts on the natural environment.  Through the shared experience of low-impact living, they become more conscious of their personal and collective consumption patterns. They learn to function as a small community of shared values, balancing individual and communal interests and needs.” The Sustainability Semester has the character of an off campus program because of the strong living/learning community, students share all the same classes and take them at the Sustainability Semester site. Also, because of the shared values of low-impact living and awareness of collective consumption patterns, how much to use cars, visit campus, and other behavior patterns are part of collaborative decision making that the students participate in. Finally, efforts are made to ensure cross-fertilization and a sharing of values between those participating in the Sustainability Semester and campus as we all work toward a more sustainable future.