TitleSustainability Education Intitiative Request Date2012-11-30
DepartmentInstitute on Ecosystems
RequestorCathy Whitlock Phone994-6910
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts All colleges. The proposed program will be available to students and faculty across MSU-Bozeman. We anticipate that initial interest will come from science and engineering departments, the Architecture school, and the College of Business
Proposed Dates Start: Spring 2013 End:  
Establish a Sustainability Education Initiative (SEI) within the Institute on Ecosystems to develop, coordinate and foster educational efforts in an area of national importance and high student demand. The SEI will (1) work with faculty to integrate sustainability as a core theme in the undergraduate curriculum; (2) develop a Sustainability Certificate program including a new capstone course and internship/practicum experience; and (3) build a communication structure for sustainability education that facilitates recruitment, retention and broader engagement.
The Sustainability Education Initiative (SEI) reflects elements of each strategic objective, but aligns most strongly with Objective I.1: Increase the integration of learning, discovery and engagement; and Objective E.1: Strategically increase service, outreach and engagement.

The SEI will work across disciplinary boundaries and engage partners from within MSU and the larger community to provide a learning framework that addresses the complex challenges facing the region, the nation and the planet by:
Coordinating educational, training and in-service opportunities in sustainability across campus.
Facilitating student opportunities with non-MSU partners.
Providing sustainability workshops for faculty in conjunction with environmental practitioners and local businesses.
Building partnerships with other universities, tribal colleges, state and federal agencies, NGOs, small businesses, and communities to foster innovative opportunities for student learning and broader collaboration.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries       49500  9000    .75 
Benefits       16500  2939     
Materials & Supplies       5000       
Contracted Services              
Other Operations       16000  5000     
TOTAL 87000  16939    .75 
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

Base, recurring salary will cover the SEI director, Martha Joh Reeder, at 0.5fte ($35,000) and 0.25fte of the IoE Education and Outreach Director, Martha Sellers ($14,500). Roles for each are noted below in the Implementation Plan.

The OTO salary ($9000) and benefits ($2939) is requested only in Year 3, for three faculty who will develop and teach the 3-credit capstone course, Global Futures. We did not note fte for this funding.

Materials and supplies includes a $2000 annual supply budget for the program/office and three (3) $1000 increments for faculty to use for classroom supplies, instruction, or field trips as they integrate sustainability into their courses.

Base "other operations" includes suppport for four (4) annual workshops/trainings/symposia for faculty, local businesses, and environmental practitioners. Funds would cover rooms, speakers, travel, food, materials, etc. 

OTO "other operations" are start-up funds for the SEI office including a computer, phone, and one-time supplies.



Describe the Proposal

The Institute on Ecosystems (IoE) was established in November 2011 to address critical environmental challenges and promote understanding of mountain and high plains ecosystems. In its first year, the IoE has implemented a statewide EPSCoR science agenda; appointed science leaders around three environmental research foci; made three faculty hires at MSU and UM; awarded incubation grants to 18 statewide research teams; supported three Visiting Scholars; developed an associated faculty program that has more than 200 members; implemented a “Rough Cut” seminar series for UM and MSU faculty to travel to the sister campus and present research work in progress; hosted three Distinguished Visiting Lecturers with global recognition; and worked with Extended University to develop statewide outreach initiatives.  


Central to the IoE’s long-term success is the development and support of an integrated interdisciplinary environmental education program that will provide students with the knowledge and experience needed to lead in the area of sustainable practices. Current educational initiatives within the IoE include: i) a research internship program that includes tribal college students to involve students in EPSCoR-related science; ii) an international internship program within the WildFIRE PIRE project to study fire and climate change; iii) graduate fellowships in EPSCoR-focused research areas including an outreach requirement for the funded students; and iv) development of a robust water sciences minor at MSU with the possibility of offering the minor at both universities.


With this proposal, we request support for a Sustainability Education Initiative (SEI) that will (1) leverage current IoE education programs and other sustainability activities underway across campus; and (2) provide leadership and a home for MSU sustainability efforts in the areas of education and engagement.  An undergraduate program in sustainability is not currently supported by EPSCoR funds or MSU base support to the IoE.


Specifically, the SEI will:

Integrate sustainability content into courses in all disciplines through direct engagement with faculty and participation of local business partners and environmental practitioners.

a)      We will provide faculty and partnership workshops and other training on such topics as best-practices in sustainability education, effective science communication, successful community-university engagement, and community stewardship for economic benefit. Workshops will be modeled on Northern Arizona University’s Ponderosa Project, the University of Montana’s Green Threads Project, and the University of Idaho President’s Sustainability Program.

b)      Faculty workshop participants will be asked to integrate at least one of the pillars of sustainability—environmental, social-economic, and technological—into their courses.  Curriculum development in a variety of courses across campus is designed to improve sustainability literacy for students and thus build a workforce that is prepared to tackle important societal and environmental challenges.

c)      Relationships with practitioners, inside and outside the IoE, will be developed to support internships and in-service projects necessary for the Sustainability Certificate (see #2 below).

d)     In the long term, we intend to make a case to require that sustainability be included in Core 2.0 by drawing on current and new courses that incorporate sustainability themes and learning outcomes.

Develop and manage the Sustainability Certificate program, a 15-18 credit certification for MSU undergraduate students.

a)      Members of the Campus Sustainability Advisory Council (CSAC) have done the groundwork on this certificate program but the campus leadership has been unable to find a home for it. SEI staff in the IoE will work with the CSAC working group to finalize certificate requirements, engage instructors, and link education with other campus sustainability activities. Note that the first assessment of sustainability-integrated courses has been completed and will serve as a foundation for developing the certification process. Revised courses described in #1b (above) will be added to the eligible course list in this program.

b)      A team-taught capstone course (Global Futures, 3 credits) will bring together faculty from science, engineering, social sciences, and humanities to look at the literature of, and possible applications for, sustainability. The goal is for students to understand the coupled human-natural system across multiple scales and recognize the opportunities to develop sustainable solutions for real-world challenges.

c)      The SEI will build partnerships with businesses; federal, state and local agencies; and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the region to provide student training and in-service opportunities for the Sustainability Certificate program. Through IoE, for example, we have unique opportunities to collaborate with researchers and practitioners in sustainable areas. Partners in the US Geological Survey, USDA Forest Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Yellowstone National Park, a variety of NGOs, and local green businesses are willing to involve MSU undergraduates in in-service experiences related to the environment and sustainability. Through this exposure, students will gain valuable applied training and be networked into employment and other post-graduate opportunities.

Strategically engage students, faculty, and partners in building an active community with shared interests in sustainability education and leadership thereby maximizing campus impact and growing national visibility in this area. 

a)      Build upon IoE’s communications infrastructure and partnerships to ensure broad interdisciplinary and inter-institutional engagement. 

b)      Develop a dynamic web presence, social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter), print products, news stories, and outreach activities and events both on and off campus. 

c)      Align our communication activities with other campus sustainability programs to add value and ensure integration.

d)     Work closely with University Communications and Extended University to increase external visibility, emphasizing narratives on program success.


The IoE provides a natural and logical home for this initiative, and the proposed SEI activities align well with MSU’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), which states,

“The IoE mission to promote interdisciplinary discovery, education, and engagement focused on a sustainable future for Montana as well as mountain regions around the world, is a strate­gic alignment of ongoing and future efforts at MSU-Bozeman. The IoE will coordinate climate neutrality and sustainability education, outreach and research efforts amongst undergraduate and graduate students and staff/faculty across campus and within the community.”


Efforts by CSAC, ASMSU, Facilities Services and others related to governance, energy and emissions, transportation, and consumables and waste are strong across campus. SEI complements current activities underway by these groups by focusing on the missing piece: sustainability learning and education-based partnerships. A successful SEI will require meaningful collaborations with MSU and non-MSU partners, including governing and advisory groups  (ASMSU, CSAC, the Office of Sustainability); research entities (Western Transportation Institute, Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership); undergraduate research/outreach programs (Undergraduate Scholars Program, Hughes Undergraduate Biology, INBRE); and IoE-affiliated faculty from nearly all departments on campus.


The SEI team will work closely with the Office of Sustainability and other partners to share ideas, resources, and networks so that together we can place significantly more students and in more diverse project opportunities. SEI is committed to developing greater efficiency for students and mentors/supervisors to pair up on rigorous and relevant projects. The IoE recently began a conversation with the Student Community Outreach ProjEct (SCOPE) and the Hughes Undergraduate Biology program that could lead to an online mechanism for this information.

Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

The broader impacts and benefits associated with the establishment of the Sustainability Education Initiative are significant and far reaching. Foremost, the office will support MSU’s Strategic Goals to:

  • Continue to advance knowledge and improve society in a nationally relevant topic.
  • Solidify MSU’s reputation for excellence in undergraduate education and training and increase student retention and recruitment.
  • Prepare the next generation of students to be informed leaders and decision makers, through development of knowledge-based critical thinking skills, hands-on learning, and good communication skills.
  • Increase faculty prominence in research and education through partnerships with local and regional resource management and “green” partners and broader coordinated outreach.



Formal instruction on sustainability remains a rarity in academia, although sustainability education is an area of rising student demand across the nation. Students are often exposed to best practices related to recycling, energy conservation, and environmental protection, which are critical first steps, but exposure to courses that involve critical thinking and provide a scholarly framework to address these best practices is often lacking. We propose to bring the three sustainability pillars—environmental, social-economic, and technological—into the diverse curriculum available at MSU in sciences, social sciences, engineering, and humanities. Several courses currently include sustainability in their curriculum, but there is no mechanism to coordinate learning across subjects nor is there a formal advising structure for students who seek broader interdisciplinary understanding (with the notable exception of the SFBF program). SEI seeks to provide a clear pathway for students who are interested in sustainability through the Sustainability Certificate program and training and networking opportunities with partners.  In the future, we would like sustainability to be considered as a Core 2 requirement.


Interdisciplinary research in environmental areas is already the goal of the IoE. These efforts will be facilitated by the SEI through the series of proposed workshops and training sessions for faculty, environmental practitioners, and businesses. Involvement of IoE affiliates and partners in these exchanges will incubate new research ideas, increase visibility for environmental research at MSU, and foster new collaborations across disciplines and practitioners.


MSU’s recently formalized goal of ensuring students are engaged both in and out of the classroom on topics and challenges critical to our future is central to our success in graduating students who will be tomorrow’s effective leaders and citizens. The SEI will increase opportunities for workforce development and networking with local and regional “green” partners and expand opportunities for students to participate in diverse research at an applied level.



SEI will be an important component of the Institute on Ecosystems, which sees itself as a community of scholars who draw on the extraordinary landscapes of Montana to advance knowledge and stewardship of mountain and high plains ecosystems. IoE seeks to work across disciplinary, institutional, and geographic boundaries to: catalyze and support interdisciplinary scholarly activities focused on mountain and high plains ecosystems; educate and train the next generation of environmental scholars, educators, and leaders; inspire and engage the broader community by translating science into solutions that foster sustainable outcomes. Our goal in integrating science and education is to become a premier resource for science-based knowledge and solutions necessary to tackle the pressing environmental challenges facing mountains and high plains ecosystems and their communities.  The IoE is a model of how a small-population state can excel in research and education and improve the lives of its citizens.


MSU’s commitment to stewardship aligns well with the SEI. Our focus will be on preparing the next generation of students to be astute, intellectual, and considerate leaders, with tremendous communication skills. We believe that stewardship and sustainability education go hand in hand in providing the foundation for effective student engagement at a land-grant university. As MSU continues to manage its human, physical, economic, and environmental resources in an open, responsible, and sustainable manner, we seek to engage students more fully in the process.  

Implementation Plan





General Operations

Confirm staff



Set up office

Set up Advising plan and inform campus


Appoint Faculty Advisory Committee



Sustainability integration

Develop/deliver first workshops/trainings

Develop/deliver 4 workshops/trainings

Develop/deliver 4 workshops/trainings

Begin integrating sustainability into selected courses

Continue integrating sustainability into courses

Continue integrating sustainability into courses

Sustainability Certificate

Enlist CSAC’s Sustainability Certificate working group, finalize cert expectations

Begin certificate program


Identify and engage first internship partners

Coordinate first internships, create database

Expand internship program


Develop Capstone course

Deliver first Capstone course

Communication and Outreach

Set up website and develop Communication Plan




Beginning in Spring 2013, the SEI team will begin developing the programs identified above. The SEI Director will oversee the program; set expectations (with advice from the Faculty Advisory Board); manage outcomes; develop and deliver the workshops; work with faculty to integrate sustainability into courses; work with the CSAC group and other interested parties to develop the certification program; identify and work with the Capstone instructors to ensure a successful course; and manage the office. The IoE Director of Education and Outreach will develop and manage internships; work with MSU and community partners on additional collaborations and projects; and oversee the communication and initiative-wide outreach. A faculty advisory board will be convened with representatives from all colleges. Cathy Whitlock, IoE Director, will chair the board. This proposal includes a request for an office in which to house the SEI, preferably in AJM Johnson, near the IoE office.


The first workshop will be offered Summer 2013 and will bring together interested faculty and local business leaders identified by the College of Business, and environmental practitioners currently affiliated with the IoE. Faculty participants will be encouraged to start immediately integrating sustainability into their courses and will work with the SEI Director to ensure success.  


During the first year, SEI will also re-engage the CSAC Sustainability Certificate working group that has already completed a course audit and researched similar certificate programs. This group is committed to ensuring development of the certificate program and will work with the SEI to complete this process. Work to be done includes a deeper assessment of the sustainability integration for each particular course, communication about the certificate with all impacted departments and instructors, development of the Capstone course (by year 3), and creation of an advising structure. 


Concurrently, the SEI team will engage interested academic departments and centers/institutes, local businesses, and environmental practitioners in discussion and internship development. Work on internships, in-service projects, and other engagement opportunities will be developed in conjunction with the Office of Sustainability and other relevant partners, and all efforts will be made to reach out as broadly as possible to students in each college for our initial cohort of recipients. There are many campus-based entities already involved in and/or interested in providing these student opportunities and we envision a large and diverse group of people engaging on this topic.  


Work plans will be developed for subsequent years as we reach milestones and assess successes and challenges, and will be submitted to the Budget Council as requested.

Assessment Plan

We anticipate that the SEI will garner interest from a large and diverse group of students, faculty, and non-MSU partners; specifically, the Sustainability Certificate program may reach 20 students in its first year, and continue to grow exponentially.

Evaluation indicators would include:

  • Number of students enrolled in the Certificate Program
  • Number of graduates with certificates (not available until year 3)
  • Evaluations from certificate program participants
  • Number of faculty participants in workshops
  • Number of courses integrated, how quickly
  • Evaluations from workshop participants
  • Number of  business partners and environmental practitioners
  • Number of students involved in outreach programs
  • Number of students involved in service learning and hands-on learning projects
  • Evaluations from student engagement (both students and mentors)
If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

Objectives are far-reaching and clearly defined. Assessments will enable us to address challenges and gaps, and the Faculty Advisory Board will provide oversight if commitments are not met. Continued funding will ensure that the certificate program succeeds. 

Executive/VP: Tom Mccoy (