IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Providing lessons in sustainable practices
For Geoff Rubinstein, it made perfect sense to establish a sustainability program within the Division of Continuing Education and Professional Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“There’s a recognition that CU-Boulder is one of the top universities in the country in both climate science and renewable energy research,” said Rubinstein, director of the division’s Independent Learning program. “We wanted to extend that talent, vision and leadership and create educational programs and resources that reach beyond the university.”
Now in its third year, the non-credit Sustainable Practices Certificate Program is offered to a diverse audience through Independent Learning in association with CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Rubinstein said the 100-hour certificate program serves as a launch pad for people interested in sustainable practices, targeting career changers, “do-it-yourself” homeowners, educators and other building professionals who want to go Green. “We hope the program gives people a good sense of whether this is something they want to pursue further,” he said.
The 2007 curriculum included three courses and the amount jumped to more than 10 – with an average of 16 to 20 students each – in 2008. The courses, which include classroom seminars and hands-on workshops, typically range from one to three-day sessions.
Last year the first Carbon Neutral University Planning course (ENVS 4100) was taught on campus by Dave Newport, director of the Environmental Center. The semester-long course engages students in CU-Boulder's efforts to draft a plan and timeline for the campus to fully eliminate net emissions of greenhouse gasses, as part of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment pledge (ACUPCC). The classes were captured on video and used to teach an online course. The “very innovative experiment” attracted participants from 16 states, stirring a national conversation, Rubinstein said.
This month the program will offer its first online-only classes, including both a green building and a residential renewable energy course. The standard 2009 curriculum includes courses on straw bale building, solar electricity, and passive solar heating and cooling. And while the program has focused to date on Green building principles and energy sciences, Rubinstein said he hopes to expand into other arenas such as climate literacy and Green business practices.
Administrators have also built critical partnerships in order to develop the program, helping to blur the distinction between academic and professional development for students. The program works with the city of Boulder as well as the Boulder Green Building Guild, which now holds its annual conference on the CU-Boulder campus. Laura Bartels of GreenWeaver Inc. teaches natural building courses. The program has also partnered with Namaste Solar Electric to offer solar photovoltaics workshops and is collaborating with CU Biodiesel to create a biodiesel course. By working with national consultants and professionals in addition to faculty, “we really get the best of both worlds,” said James Wentworth, Independent Learning’s academic coordinator.
Wentworth said the combination of theoretical training and hands-on experience – as well as the convenience of online classes that allow students to set their own pace – has drawn more people to the program. Some local employers are even paying for their employees to enroll in the courses. “That suggests huge potential,” Wentworth said. “The local community is hungry for this type of knowledge.”
Kathy Clegg, an accounting technician for the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, received the program’s first certificate in fall of 2008. “It’s inspiring to know that there are a lot of people out there working on these solutions,” she said. “This subject is really important these days, and I think we’re all going to be called to action.”
Clegg, who has worked at CU for nearly 16 years, earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental design from the CU College of Architecture and Planning in May 2007 – an experience that initiated her interest in independent study. She started taking courses for the Sustainable Practices Certificate Program in 2005. As a full-time employee, Clegg said the weekend courses fit her scheduling needs and allowed her to complete the program. Early bird discounts are available and CU faculty, staff and students also receive a 10 percent discount.
“These are exciting times, but they are going to be challenging times," she said. "My goal is to be as active and as useful to the community as I can be and I want to prepare myself for that. This program is a great way to get your foot in the door.”
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