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A History from Office of Sustainability to Academic Sustainability Programs Office

Office of Sustainability

McMaster created the Office of Sustainability in 2009. The development of this office was led by Kate Whalen. The mission of the Office was ‘to shape the minds and values of a new generation of leaders by integrating an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable consciousness into all aspects of the University life cycle’,. Within its inaugural year, the Office fostered connection among groups and departments on campus to implement more than 15 sustainability initiatives. Areas of focus for sustainability initiatives included education, energy, green space, health and wellbeing, transportation, waste, and water.. To support sustainability-minded students in applying their formal education, the Office of Sustainability worked with Faculties and departments across campus to create 10 sustainability internship opportunities for the 2009/2010 academic year. Highlights of the initiatives implemented during the program’s inaugural year include: a 3D model of building energy use, an inventory of campus paper usage, and GIS mapping of campus bike racks and their corresponding usage levels. Taking on a minimum of 10 student interns each year since the program’s implementation in 2009, as well as expanding the program to include projects that involve participation from entire classes of students, the Office of Sustainability was able to connect with over 1601 students in relating real-world sustainability initiatives to academic courses. Furthermore, across campus, the number of courses that had been identified by each Faculty as having a sustainable theme grew from 83 in 2010 to 165 in 2011, which might suggest an enhanced understanding of sustainability, recognition of sustainability-related academic content, and/or expansion of sustainability being taught in the curriculum.For more information on sustainability initiatives completed by the Office of Sustainability, please see: McMaster Sustainability Annual Reports

Students’ demand for sustainability-focused experiential learning led to the rapid growth of the Office’s ‘education’ area of focus. The overwhelming support from students, staff, faculty, and members of the broader community signalled the need for a department focused specifically on academic sustainability that would leverage campus and community as a living laboratory to tackle complex issues of sustainability.

Academic Sustainability Programs Office

In July 2014, the Office of Sustainability underwent a reorganization that divided the Office into its operational components, now overseen by Facility Services, and its academic components now overseen by the Academic Sustainability Programs (ASP) Office. The development of the ASP office was led by Kate Whalen, who continues to oversee the department while working collaboratively with Facility Services and the Office of Sustainability.

Sustainability Internship Program

Created in 2009 by McMaster’s Office of Sustainability, and continued by McMaster’s Academic Sustainability Programs Office, in collaboration with a group of highly engaged faculty members,

staff members, community supporters, and students. The program has now supported over 54 students in their self-directed experiential learning.

One of the key benefits to the student is the opportunity to engage and collaborate with individuals, group, and organizations from diverse areas of the community. The Internship Program presents opportunities for students to enhance the value of their degree, gain experience in areas of interest, and advance sustainability on campus or in the community. For more information on the Sustainability Internship program, please see: Sustainability Internship Program.

Sustainable Future Program

In January 2012, McMaster began the development of the Sustainable Future Program. The idea of creating an interdisciplinary course in sustainability was proposed out of the work undertaken by the Task Force on Sustainability within the Faculty of Engineering. Support for the idea led to the creation of a working group of cross-campus stakeholders from each Faculty and administration. The goal for this group was to develop an interdisciplinary course that would engage students in learning about sustainability through experience, research, and community engagement. During early discussions, the group recommended the creation of additional courses as enrollment and student demand warranted.

This University-wide program is the product of collaboration amongst cross-campus stakeholders from various Faculties and administration. All undergraduate courses in the Sustainable Future Program provide students with the opportunity to take part in interdisciplinary, student-led, community-based, and experiential education.

The first course of the Sustainable Future Program, SUSTAIN 2A03: The Sustainable Future Project, was delivered in January 2013. Open to students from all Faculties in second year and above, enrolment was limited to 100 students and distributed across all Faculties to encourage interdisciplinary learning. A total of 83 students enrolled in the first offering and they advanced sustainability through working on 38 sustainability projects. Highlights of these projects include the organization of a cycling course at McMaster to promote safety and active transportation; the installation of a bike repair station on-campus; and an educational campaign to effectively raise awareness about sustainable meat consumption.

The success of this inaugural course led to the development of SUSTAIN 3A03: Societal Tools for Systemic Sustainable Change, which was first offered in September 2013. Learning from SUSTAIN 2A03, it was decided that the community-based experiential learning projects be moved from the level-two course to the level-three course. The level-two course would instead adopt a personal lifestyle challenge rather than a community-based project to support student’s experiential learning about sustainability.

Resulting from the substantial revisions involved at the course level when developing the full suite of courses within the Program, the course codes were changed from “A0” to “S0”, in line with University guidelines for course codes. Following this, a level-one course, SUSTAIN 1S03: Introduction to Sustainability, was added to the Program and offered for the first time in September 2014.

The level-four undergraduate course in the Sustainable Future Program, SUSTAIN 4S06: Leadership in Sustainability, was launched in September 2016. Based on feedback from sustainability students and previous Community Project Champions, this course was created to enable students to develop essential skills to effectively tackle many of the challenging sustainability problems that face our society.

For more information on the Sustainable Future Program and the specific courses, please see click this webpage.

Graduate/Undergraduate Collaboration in Experiential Learning (GUCEL) Program

Driven with the aspiration to provide graduate students with the opportunity for sustainability-related experiential learning, Melissa Gallina engaged in an independent endeavor to work with members of the community to identify opportunities for collaboration and eventually implement such a program at

McMaster. To achieve this goal, Melissa, a former Sustainability Student Intern and a McMaster graduate student, began the development of the Graduate/Undergraduate Collaboration in Experiential Learning (GUCEL) Program with support from McMaster’s (then) Office of Sustainability and the School of Graduate Studies. Melissa was awarded with funding from SPICES in 2013 for the development and implementation of the GUCEL Program. Through her work, Melissa successfully implemented the GUCEL Pilot Program in the summer of 2013. The first GUCEL project focused on waste management at McMaster University and was supported by McMaster’s Department of Facility Services and McMaster’s waste services provider, BFI. The GUCEL Program encouraged graduate and undergraduate students to work together on an interdisciplinary project, resulting in the creation of novel intellectual communities. This dynamic interaction aimed to facilitate the development of an intellectual community through the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and perspectives. Furthermore, students had the opportunity to expand their existing intellectual community to include individuals from across campus, representing a variety of disciplines and levels of study. Since its inaugural year, several GUCEL projects have been completed on issues such as waste management, sustainability-related employment opportunities, and availability of local food. Through this expansion, we hope to continue to support graduate student opportunities previously provided through our Graduate/Undergraduate Collaboration in Experiential Learning (GUCEL) program.

In the fall of 2021, the ASP Office chose to expand the Sustainability Internship Program to include graduate students.

For more information on the GUCEL program, please see: GUCEL Program

Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability

Addressing sustainability in our society poses complex challenges that require interdisciplinary solutions. Sustainability in university is taught most often in silos within individual Faculties, and within individual and isolated classes. The goal of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability is to alter this pedagogy and teach sustainability both within and across Faculties. The Minor provides a path for students to study and integrate diverse aspects of sustainability from different disciplines into a cohesive whole.

McMaster launched the Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability in September 2014 to enable students from all Faculties to gain an interdisciplinary understanding of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. The Minor Course List currently includes 65 courses from over 20 departments. Within the inaugural year of 2014/15, five students graduated with an Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability. This past year of 2015/16, 14 students graduated with the Minor. We are encouraged by these numbers as they demonstrate interest and latent demand for this Minor. Enhancing flexibility and accessibility of the Minor, as well as communicating the opportunity to incoming and current students early on, is integral to providing a positive and meaningful experience for the students and to ensure long-term success and sustainability of the Minor.

For more information on the Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability, please see: Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability

Community-based Leadership in Sustainability (2014-2018)

The Community-based Leadership in Sustainability (CLS) initiative was created in the fall of 2014 as a joint initiative between a number of groups and organizations with the goal to develop a culture of sustainability through education, community engagement, and collaboration that inspires practical implementation.

For more information, please see: Community-based Leadership in Sustainability