Sustainability minor has broad-based appeal

Iowa State's new sustainability minor is only a few months old. But a hundred students are enrolled in one of the minor's core courses this semester.  In a recent show of hands, some three-fourths of the students in the class indicated their intent to minor in sustainability.

"In the first lecture, I talk about philosophy and Aristotle and happiness. The reason we want to be sustainable is we want to sustain human flourishing. We want to continue to flourish long into the future, we don't want to use up everything we have currently, and we want to bring people who are less advantaged along to have a higher standard of living."

Arne Hallam, on the "Global and Sustainability" course

Arne Hallam, associate dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the "Globalization and Sustainability" course and a second required course, "Globalization and the Human Condition," lay the groundwork for the sustainability minor.

"From the very beginning, we thought this needs to be a university-wide minor that fits for everyone and is really broad-based," Hallam said.  "Sustainability is a holistic concept, involving economics, social areas and the environment. We wanted students to be exposed to all these ideas, not just one part of it."

Here's a quick look at Iowa State's new minor:


Students need 15 credits -- six from two core courses and nine elective credits, selected from a list of 50-plus courses

Enrollment, so far

A handful of students have enrolled in the minor, since it opened in December. Many students in the core classes have indicated their intent to enroll.

Who's interested

Students currently enrolled in the "Globalization and Sustainability" course come from all kinds of majors -- engineering, agriculture, education, economics, sociology, history, business, environmental science, global resource systems, animal science, forestry, women's studies and many more.

Hallam noted many of the students in the class are active in university recycling, campus cleanups and other sustainability efforts.

How it started

The idea for the minor grew out of a casual conversation in the office of then-LAS dean Mike Whiteford in 2009. The dean and professors Hallam (economics), Richard Lesar (materials science engineering) and Mark Bryden (mechanical engineering) were discussing existing global and local sustainability activities at Iowa State. They pondered creating a sustainability class, then moved on to a bigger idea -- creating a university minor.

Time, not money

Organizers of the new minor spent many hours pulling everything together, but little else. All of the courses in the minor, except the introductory "Globalization and Sustainability," already existed. The original instigators of the new minor (Hallam, Lesar and Bryden) created and are co-teaching the new course.

Sponsoring colleges

Four ISU colleges are sponsors of the sustainability minor: Agriculture and Life Sciences; Design; Engineering; Liberal Arts and Sciences.