Green isn’t just a school color at George Mason University. At Mason, “green” is way of life, and sustainability is central to the university’s mission.
“Sustainability is one of Mason’s core values and in order to be a leader in the green movement, we are taking a holistic approach by integrating sustainability across research, education and operations,” said Mason Provost Mark Ginsberg. “By infusing sustainability into the curriculum, we provide our students with the knowledge and skills they need to become eco-citizens who will actively seek ways to reduce their environmental footprints.”
One of the ways Mason is doing this work is with Green Leaf courses, which are designed to help to raise environmental awareness while providing students with a comprehensive knowledge of their local and global environment. Mason has more than 125 of these classes across 25 academic programs, covering topics from AVT 385 EcoArt in the School of Art to TOUR 340 Sustainable Tourism in the School of Sport, Recreation and Tourism Management.
The courses also contribute to Mason’s Gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) which the university joined in 2010 as a charter member.
Many of the courses have a workforce component that help students explore career options in their field of study. Students in Changwoo Ahn’s BIOL 379/EVPP 378 Ecological Sustainability found a lot of value in a field trip to environmental consultants Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc. and were excited to hear from guest speakers in the research-focused class.
“[The field trip] was great because it helps you get ideas about other opportunities available in the field,” said environmental science major Erin MacMonigle. “Dr. Ahn also brought in some great speakers. I wish more classes were like this one.”
Mason alum and College of Science adjunct professor Michelle Ryan, PhD Environmental Science and Public Policy ’15, brings her experience as a consultant for a global telecommunication company to the Green Leaf classes she teaches.
In EVPP 322 Business and Sustainability, Ryan has the students analyze how businesses have interacted with the environment—both negatively and positively—as well as the pivotal role businesses play in developing solutions to address environmental concerns. The students work in teams and get to pick a real company to analyze, then share their findings and presentations with the class. This semester the students chose Starbucks, Nike, National Geographic, and Dominion Energy.
“I like to bring a lot of reality to course discussion and have them tackle real-world problem sets,” said Ryan.
Some Green Leaf courses also offer hands-on experiences. Students in EVPP 480 Sustainability in Action have the opportunity to literally get their hands dirty and make a difference on and off campus. In this class, with sections taught by faculty members Jennifer Sklarew and Cynthia Smith of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, students commit to 40 hours of service learning. This semester one of their community-based service projects included picking up trash at Occoquan Regional Park.
EcoArt students pursue individual projects as a part of their coursework. Student Andrew Windheim used what he learned in class to remediate an overgrown part of his backyard and to establish a sustainable, ecological “Resurrected Garden,” as he calls it.
Mason will be highlighting a number of these Green Leaf courses in an ongoing series.