Sustainability Education in the United States

Published on: Author: lrobert1 Leave a comment

Every year, the National Wildlife Federation employs graduate interns to research topics for their upcoming educational and outreach projects. This school year, I was lucky enough to land one of these internships to help the NWF research the state of sustainability education in the U.S.! The NWF is very involved in education around the country, and one of their new initiatives involves developing sustainable and environmental curriculum. My job was to research seven cities and urban areas, locate appropriate schools, identify existing ‘green’ curriculum, and suggest improvements as to how each metro area could incorporate sustainability into their programs.

I was tasked with locating career and technical education (CTE) programs in each metro area, at both the high school and community college level. These programs are very common, and frequently target urban and under-served populations. CTE courses often teach mechanical, practical, and hands-on skills (such as welding or auto repair) to help students obtain technical jobs immediately after high school, or after a short college certification program. In my research, I discovered that it is relatively unusual for CTE programs to include sustainability or green education.

As one outcome of my research, I created maps of each metro area (see an example below!) depicting the locations of high school and community college CTE programs. This will help the NWF when planning special events, or when implementing CTE programming. The data associated with each map includes the school address, the school type, and the CTE curriculum or programming offered. As a result of locating these schools and determining the available coursework at each campus, I was able to analyze nationwide trends regarding CTE cluster coursework popularity. Courses are usually classified in subject clusters, depending on the region and school district, so I used the following groups: agriculture; business and finance; construction and architecture; cosmetology and hospitality; education; engineering; health science; information technology; law; manufacturing; media and communications; and transportation.

So far, I have identified that business and finance is the most popular cluster, both on average and at the high school and community college levels individually. The second and third most popular clusters at the high school level are information technology and engineering, respectively. At the community college level, the second and third most popular clusters are information technology and health science, respectively. The least popular course at all levels was agriculture (which included environmental and natural science courses) which indicates limited availability of green educational resources for CTE students.

I believe designing dual-credit or cross-credit CTE courses will be useful to the NWF when incorporating new CTE programming into these metro areas, especially in regions where no green curriculum already exists. Given the popularity of information technology courses, introducing GIS (geographic information systems) classes could prove an effective tool to pioneer new environmental science and green programming at both the high school and college levels. Business and finance programs, by far the most popular, could easily offer environmental economics classes to introduce students to green and sustainable concepts. These ideas and additional input from the NWF will form the basis for a new green education program, specifically targeted toward students who might otherwise never be exposed to sustainability principles.


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