by Whitney Hale
(May 5, 2014) — Undergraduate students who participated in the National Science Foundation-funded Systems Thinking for Sustainability (NSF-STFS) course at the University of Kentucky will present their research findings in a showcase from 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, in the Lexmark Public Room in UK's Main Building. This project showcase, which is free and open to the public, will display the range of multivalent viewpoints, issues investigated, and potential solutions discovered over the course of the spring 2014 semester.
This is the third year of the curriculum development and the first year including a group of students from Texas A&M University, which were exposed to segments of the curriculum delivered by UK’s team and adapted by one of the UK team members.
The presentation agenda for the showcase is as follows:
- informal discussions with individual UK student teams, 10:30 to 11 a.m.;
- UK student team presentations, 11 a.m. to noon; and
- a question and response session, noon to 12:30 p.m.
This year’s NSF-STFS umbrella project titled "Campus Living" advances the research developed by the spring 2012 and spring 2013 STFS class. Using the last two years' projects as springboards for deeper and more thorough approaches, the students’ projects explore sustainable issues through the lens of systems thinking as a means of simultaneously seeing and assessing the issues from multiple vantage points.
The topics selected for this year’s projects are germane to ongoing campus planning initiatives and include topics like open space utilization, building the campus community, sustainable transportation, energy and water usage, campus amenities, and enhancing the student center experience.
To further substantiate how knowledge generated at UK can be translated to meet other outcomes, the faculty members have also been working with a number of universities both in the U.S. and abroad. The NSF-STFS team introduced a series of hybrid and blended learning modules this year that allowed the faculty to introduce the course at Texas A&M University's College of Architecture delivered by UK College of Design Associate Dean for Research and Associate Professor of Architecture Gregory Luhan.
The Texas A&M students used the same course materials as UK but focused their umbrella project on rebuilding the community of West Liberty, Ky., that was destroyed by tornadoes in 2012. Their umbrella project is entitled “Moving West Liberty Forward. Together.” The set of a few developed modules have also been tested at the Bern University of Technology, located in Bern, Switzerland.
The faculty who collaboratively taught the NSF-STFS course at UK are Associate Professor Mechanical Engineering Fazleena Badurdeen; College of Design Associate Dean for Research Luhan; Associate Professor of Mathematics Education Margaret Mohr-Schroeder of the College of Education; Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dusan Sekulic; and Assistant Professor Leslie Vincent of Gatton College of Business and Economics.
NSF-STFS focused on the development of an innovative team-taught interdisciplinary course that will transform STEM education for undergraduates. This course features the interactive teamwork of four UK colleges, Business and Economics, Design, Education, and Engineering, that uses a problem-based and project-based learning approach to address issues related to sustainability and living on the UK campus.
The hope and expectation of the three-year study is to enable students to engage in and learn from a systems thinking approach to solve problems in sustainability areas that will help students develop the perspectives and skills they need to work together in an increasingly cross-disciplinary world facing progressively more complex problems. The immediate benefit for many of the students, aside from working across disciplines through rigorous research-driven methods, is the synergistic link between the NSF-STFS course and their own discipline specific capstone projects and studio projects.
The NSF-STFS faculty continue to analyze the data developed in the class to frame research papers, presentations, and to inform workshops at national and international conferences using the showcase as a valuable vehicle to demonstrate “proof-of-concept” approaches that bridge between research, pedagogy and practice.