College of Sciences Courses Spotlight UN Sustainable Development Goals

Six proposals from the College of Sciences will evolve existing courses, create new ones to include the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals — a key part of Georgia Tech’s Sustainability Next initiative.

May 8, 2023

Six proposals from the College of Sciences will redesign existing courses and begin new ones to help students contribute to a sustainable world have been approved for Undergraduate Sustainability Education Innovation Grants. The proposals tie into the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

A total of 21 projects from all six Georgia Tech colleges will reach an estimated 22,500 students. The collaborative effort is focused on a key goal of the Institute’s Sustainability Next Task Force: to produce graduates who are committed to making a positive difference in their communities, their organizations, and the world.

“The overall goal is that all of our students understand the societal context for their work, as well as the scientific, environmental, economic, and social aspects of sustainability,” says Jennifer Leavey, assistant dean for Faculty Mentoring for the College of Sciences and co-chair of Sustainability Next.

Leavey and Rebecca Watts-Hull, assistant director of Faculty Development for Sustainability Education in the Center for Teaching and Learning, served as liaisons for the Undergraduate Sustainability Education Committee, which judged the proposals.

Leavey also coordinates College of Sciences educational programs related to science and sustainability, including the Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee Project and the Living Building Science Vertically Integrated Project Team

Leavey said the UN SDGs — which ask world citizens and their governments to consider ambitious solutions to longstanding problems such as hunger, poverty, climate damage, inequality, and lack of quality healthcare — are clear and compelling. “These are things we want for a better world,” she shared. “Every field has some connection to them. And it's just a very easy framework to get behind and understand. I would love it if all Georgia Tech graduates could leave feeling well versed in that understanding, and how their work connects to it.”

The Sustainable Education Committee chose projects that impacted the greatest number of students, including classes that are required for all Georgia Tech undergraduates. 

Learn more about the College of Sciences’ six selected proposals:

Laboratory-Based Project on the Chemistry of Alternative Energy Sources

  • CHEM 1211L, Chemical Principles I, Laboratory
  • Deborah Santos, academic professional, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • 1000+ students impacted (majority first-year)
  • “I hope that the students would have a better understanding of why they hear about these technologies as possible alternatives, and what obstacles there are to actual widespread implementation,” Santos said. “Maybe students will consider how they might play a role in overcoming those obstacles.”

Sustainability Next: Taking a Sustainable Open-Educational Resource And SDG-ing It

  • Bios 1107/1207, Biological Principles
  • Emily Weigel, senior academic professional, and Marc Weissburg, professor, School of Biological Sciences
  • Approximately 650 early career students per year
  • “I will take the textbook and each day link it to an SDG, so that when they come into class, we'll talk about the topics in the context of SDGs,” Weigel said. “By being a little bit more explicit about it, it's our goal that when they go from this intro course to later courses in their curriculum, they're primed to think about SDGs, and then they recognize the connections that are there.”

Georgia Climate Project 

  • EAS 4813 — This is a new course within the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences’ new interdisciplinary Environmental Science (ENVS) undergraduate degree program with the School of Biological Sciences, and part of a partnership with the Georgia Climate Project, a state-wide consortium of universities, colleges and partners working to improve understanding of climate impacts and solutions in Georgia.
  • Zachary Handlos, senior academic professional, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
  • 10-20 students impacted per year 
  • “This course would provide students an opportunity to participate in hands-on learning within the context of ‘real-world’ sustainability-related projects in partnership with the Georgia Climate Project, complementing topics and coursework covered in Samantha Wilson’s EAS 4803: EAS & Policy course,” Handlos said. “Work includes participation in climate change, sustainability, and climate equity and justice research, as well as the creation and dissemination of tools and resources.”

Urban Atlanta’s Water and Atmospheric Signatures

  • EAS 1600: Introduction to Environmental Science (EAS Majors) Laboratory: Urban Atlanta Atmospheric Measurements, combined with another Lab course, Urban Water Quality Measurements and Microbial Ecology Exploration using Proctor Creek Watershed
  • Jennifer Glass, associate professor, and Shelby Ellis, lecturer, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences 
  • 20-40 students per year, EAS majors only 
  • “Through field trips, students will investigate current climate change-induced conditions in urban Atlanta, with students collecting real time weather and watershed data-measurements to learn more about SDGs surrounding urban sustainable cities and clean water,” Ellis said. “In this reconfigured learning environment, we hope to foster student momentum on becoming educational leaders in their local community on climate justice, while gaining an understanding that there are attainable climate actions that can be taken now to combat climate change.” ”

Developing and Enhancing Experiential Learning in a New EAS Course

Course Redesign to Implement Project-Based Learning for Social Change

  • APPH 1040, Foundations of Health
  • Teresa Snow, senior academic professional, School of Biological Sciences
  • Approximately 200 students per year
  • “It is my hope that working towards solutions to complex societal health issues will create a sense of empowerment for our students that counteracts feelings of helplessness,” Snow said. “A cross-disciplinary approach, which is the focus of this project, will provide a better understanding of the process of large-scale social change, a critical requirement for achieving the third SDG, which is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages. Breaking down the social barriers to good health will benefit everyone.”

On April 27, the Undergraduate Sustainability Education Committee hosted a Jamboree, which featured faculty from each Georgia Tech college that won grants — making brief presentations, and engaging in networking discussions. 

“For the College of Sciences, it's really exciting to see the connection between different disciplines,” Leavey said. “We’ve been doing work on climate and the environment for a long time, but to see the connection with sustainability work at other colleges at Georgia Tech is very gratifying.”