Academics | St. Lawrence University Sustainability Program


In our effort to provide an interdisciplinary understanding of sustainability we have developed two core courses: Sustainability Leadership 1 and Sustainability Leadership 2.  Students in the program are required to take 1.5 credits each semester, including one core course and a .5 credit practicum course.  The core courses are taught by faculty from humanities, social and natural sciences.  In addition to the required core courses, students have the option of enrolling in elective courses offered on the farm.  Students will be given first priority for seats in these elective courses and will be joined by on-campus students who fill out the remaining seats.  Program students who do not opt to register for these elective courses will work with their on-campus advisor to fill out their course schedule by selecting on-campus courses required for their major or distribution requirements. Finally, students who desire are able to develop their own 1 or .5 credit independent studies as part of the program.

Core Courses: 

Our core courses are integrated and scaffolded. What this means is that the Sustainability Leadership courses and the practicum courses are designed collectively by program faculty to inform and build on one another. The courses from the fall provide a base for the courses in the spring.

Currently, our fall credits provide students with an understanding of what sustainability is, how to think through systems involved in sustainability, how to identify problems regarding sustainability, and how to develop and evaluate potential solutions to those problems. The spring courses allow students to continue building problem-solving skills while focusing on implementation of solutions and communicating with stakeholders and audiences to educate and persuade. By taking the 3 credits of course work throughout the year of the program, students gain five competencies of sustainability:

  • Systems Thinking: Understanding the complex relationships among and between social, political, and environmental systems involved in sustainability questions.
  • Anticipatory Analysis: Thinking into the future to predict future consequences of actions and policies.
  • Normative Thinking: Recognizing how social beliefs and values impact how we frame issues, develop strategies for solutions, and evaluate decisions about future actions.
  • Strategic Application: Identifying various strategies for solving recognized problems.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Working within communities and with others to develop and implement solutions to problems. 

These competencies are essential for those interested in being leaders in areas of sustainability, whether in their professional lives or communities. In reality, these skills are essential for taking leadership positions in any field. So, while our courses are focused on learning theories of sustainability and engaging in hands-on experiences in sustainability efforts, the core courses have much to offer anyone interested in being a leader in their chosen field. 

Elective Courses 

Our elective courses are chosen to further expose students to interdiscuplinary approaches to examining the concept of sustainability. Elective courses that have been offered as part of the program include:

Garden Rows Instead of Bars

New York State is home to 128 correctional facilities that house, as of 2016, roughly 77,000 inmates. The amount of food that must be procured, packaged, and shipped to each facility, along with the tremendous amounts of food waste and packaging waste that result, creates a carbon footprint much larger than necessary. Students in this course will engage in Community Based Learning at the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility. Students will be active at the St Lawrence County jail 1-2 times a week outside their typical class time. These out-of-class requirements will be offered at different times during the week or day, so all students can easily participate. In this course, we will examine the impact on facilities, inmates, and the carbon footprint that results when inmates are given ownership over their own garden and additional food is brought in from local sources. In addition to studying the economic impacts of creating a self-sustaining food source at a correctional facility, we'll also examine questions of social, criminal, and ecological justice that arise with the project. Students will be participating in hands-on activities throughout the semester such as gardening, food preservation, seed saving, and cooking. Students will also be active in preliminary research of the Garden Rows project's impact. Fulfills HU distribution (2013 curriculum)

Global Environmental Movements

From Japanese villagers marching in the 1890s to fight a copper mine that was poisoning their fields to the current efforts of the Cherokee Nation to protect its land and maintain traditional knowledge, this course examines environmental ideas and movements in a global and historical context. Our textbook, Environmentalism: A Global History examines the origins, surveys the main ideas and thinkers/activists, and presents a typology of contemporary environmentalism. Specific topics which we then examine in more depth include environmental movements in Africa and Mexican farmers' efforts to control forest management. Students write reading responses, and research an environmental movement of their choice. This course is open to all students and there is no prerequisite. This course is taught by Dr. Anne Csete (History) and fulfills the HU distribution and EL requirement (2013 curriculum). Sustainability Semester Course. Fulfills the EL requirement (2013 curriculum).

Landscape Ecology 

Taught by Dr. Sara Ashpole (Environmental Studies), the course provides theoretical principles of landscape ecology linked with planning and the design of landscapes and the restoration of degraded environments. Lecture explores the ecological processes inherent to landscape ecology, which will be complemented by characterizing and developing spatial assessment skills through the use of Geographic Information Systems in lab and the field. A focus on characterizing landscape patterns and dynamics for detecting or simulating landscape change (i.e. fragmentation) and consequences to species and metapopulations in a landscape mosaic will be the basis for group projects. Field trips and guest lectures will enhance the course material.

Literary Harvest

While environmental writers and activists such as Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, and the Indian physicist, Vandana Shiva, have alerted us to the ecological, ethical, and health problems associated with factory farming, the North Country has long been a haven for sustainable, small-scale organic agriculture. This is a creative writing course In literary nonfiction that focuses on food, food security, and farming. It has both a CBL component and a cross-cultural, comparative focus (India). Students will draw from nonfiction readings, their CBL work, and past experience, including travel, to examine the themes from both a local and global perspective. Taught by Prof. Natalia Singer (English)

Molecular Gastronomy

Taught by Prof. Paul Graham (English), “Molecular Gastronomy” refers to the set of chemical reactions and transformative processes by which food becomes fermented, leavened, seared, roasted, aged, and, above all, delicious. The transformations are easy to taste and harder to describe. This course considers molecular gastronomy from several angles: by reading several key books which communicate the principles in both scientific and nonfiction writing; by utilizing hands-on cooking activities designed to bring the science to life; and by reading food writers and literary journalists who communicate these processes to a general audience. The course actively involves students not only as cooks and eaters, but by calls upon them to bring their own knowledge of science, cooking, and writing into the discussions. Class sessions will move seamlessly from discussing the reading to replicating the principles of the week to reflection. Students will read ahead, and will have to break the science down into plain prose for a general audience. The culminating semester project will be a longer essay, blog, or web page that imitates scientifically-based culinary writing modeled most recently by Michael Pollan’s Cooked.

Papermaking: A Sustainable Practice

Few of us think about this thing we use everyday: paper. This class will focus deeply on learning how to identify, evaluate, and harvest, plants appropriate to process into pulp and make paper. You'll be able to have an understanding of and ability to evaluate plants for paper forming using both Eastern and Western traditions. We will make paper from indigenous local and cultivated plants and plant fibers from other sources, including, perhaps an old T shirt or your worn out cotton work clothes. This course if taught by Prof. Velma Bolyard (Art & Art History).

U.S. Environmental History

Taught by Dr. Anne Csete (History), this course is a survey of major themes in U.S. environmental history between ca. 1500 to the end of the 20th century. These themes include how people have thought about the natural environment, how we have changed and been changed by the environment over the last few centuries, and the development of an environmental movement and government policies about resource management and conservation.  Along with a narrative textbook, we will use readings from primary documents and secondary scholarly books to look in more depth at a number of topics. These include Native American peoples’ relationship to the land, the ecology of Colonial New England, and comparative forms of agriculture from colonial to recent times, with a particular focus on farming in the Midwest. Students will write reading responses, give oral presentations, write a short review essay which will be presented to the class, and write a take-home final exam essay exploring the course themes and readings.