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«by Makayla J. Bonney B.S., Southern Illinois University, 2012 A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Master of Science ...»

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Makayla J. Bonney

B.S., Southern Illinois University, 2012

A Thesis

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the

Master of Science

Department of Geography

in the Graduate School

Southern Illinois University Carbondale

August 2014




By Makayla J. Bonney A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in the field of Geography

Approved by:

Leslie Duram, Chair Matthew Therrell Grant Miller Graduate School Southern Illinois University Carbondale May 29, 2014




MAKAYLA J. BONNEY, for the Master of Science degree in GEOGRAPHY, presented on MAY 29, 2014, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.



MAJOR PROFESSOR: Dr. Leslie Duram Many within and outside of the discipline of geography see it as a highly appropriate home for sustainability studies. Despite a history of human-environment education within geography and support from professional research or education organizations, some studies show that geography has not developed a lead role in sustainability education. This study examines the role of geography in offering “Sustainability Focused” courses as reported by AASHE STARS institutions with geography programs. The results show that although geography departments are highly utilized when available at an institution –offering the highest proportion of sustainability courses, averaging 14% of “Sustainability Focused” curriculum– there is much room for improvement both within geography departments and campus-wide. Further, geography’s weak standing in higher education may be a barrier in capitalizing on the growing sustainability curricula.



The guidance, critique, revision, and support of Drs. Leslie Duram, Matthew Therrell, and Grant Miller are greatly appreciated. Thank you foryour patience and mentorship.

Thank you, Steven Bonney for your support and encouragement, and wonder of wonders, for having a passion for geographic education that rivals mine.

I would also like to thank the staff at National Geographic Education who first confirmed for me what I had long suspected: environmental issues should always be examined through the geographic lens.

And finally, I am thankful for the same society’s magazine, my grandparents, parents, and the faculty and staff in the Geography department at SIU who through the years have encouraged me to find wonder and celebration in “the world and all that is in it.”

–  –  –






CHAPTER 1 – Introduction

1.1 Issue Background

1.2 Problem Statement

1.3 Purpose and Scope

1.4 Justification of Study

CHAPTER 2 – Literature Review

2.1 Overview

2.2 Sustainability

2.2.1 Defining Sustainability

2.2.2 Sustainability in Higher Education

2.3 Geography

2.3.1 Defining Geography

2.3.2 Geography in Higher Education

2.4 Geography-Led Sustainability Education

2.4.1 Support for Geography-Led Sustainability Education

–  –  –

2.4.3 State of Geography-Led Sustainability Education

2.4.4 State of Geography-Led Sustainability Research

–  –  –

2.5 Summary

CHAPTER 3 – Methods

3.1 Overview and Research Questions

3.2 Sample and Data Collection

3.3 Method of Data Analysis

3.4 Limitations of the Method

CHAPTER 4 – Results

4.1 Total Sustainability Curriculum at STARS Institutions

4.2 Role of Geography in Sustainability Focused Curriculum

4.3 AAG Program Specialties

CHAPTER 5 – Discussion

5.1 Total Sustainability Curriculum at STARS Institutions

5.2 Role of Geography in Sustainability Focused Curriculum

5.3 AAG Program Specialties

5.4 Applicability of STARS as a Research Tool

5.5 Conclusion


–  –  –

Appendix A – STARS Use Guidelines

Appendix B – STARS 1.2 Technical Manual: Scoring Categories

Appendix C – List of Universities in Sample

Appendix D – Sustainability Curriculum Proportions for Entire Sample

Appendix E – Sustainability Focused Curriculum Proportions by Discipline for Entire Sample

Appendix F – Frequency of Sustainability Curriculum by Discipline for Entire Sample.64 Appendix G – AAG Program Specialty Listing for Entire Sample


–  –  –

Table 3.1: STARS Institutions From 2011-November 2013 In This Study

Table 3.2 Discipline Abbreviation Key

Table 4.1 Average Sustainability Curriculum At STARS Institutions Sampled

Table 4.2 Average Proportion of Sustainability Focused Curriculum By Discipline

Table 4.3 Frequency of Sustainability Curriculum By Discipline Across All Schools.

................36 Table 4.4 AAG 2011-2012 AAG Program Specialty of Sampled Universities

Table 5.1: AAG Program Specialties of Geography Programs Not Offering STARS Sustainability Focused Courses

–  –  –

Figure 5.1 Geography Program Specialties in Sample, All U.

S. AAG Programs

Figure 5.2 AAG Program Specialties Claimed by U.

S. Geography Departments 2002-2012.......42

–  –  –

1.1 Issue Background Many believe sustainability to be a mere buzz-word; the latest in a long stream of environmental thought and jargon of the 20th century. In reality, the term sustainability can be found in literature dating back to the late 19th century, referring to political policy (Perkins 1876) and urban planning (Howard 1898). Today conversations of sustainability vary from references to environmental resources, human lifestyle, urban planning, and climate change. The modern question of sustainability is: “how can we meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs?” (WCED 1987). The challenge of answering this question is seen by many as the pressing issue of our time (Cullingford 2004).

Universities have a special responsibility to respond to societal movements and global challenges (Alshuwaikhat and Abubakar 2008; Basile in Sustainability 2012). George Basile, sustainability scientist and senior faculty at Arizona State University’s School for Sustainability believes universities are unique in that they have the ability to solve “real world problems –sustainably— that cannot be addressed by other organizations” (Basile in Sustainability 2012, p. 218).

Universities are being called to participate in the quest for a more sustainable future (Clark 1998;

Mulkey 2012).

Since the creation of the Talloires Declaration in 1990—the first formal institutional commitment to university sustainability in physical operations and teaching— universities have focused on sustainable operations and sustainability education as a response to a.) Student and stakeholder demand and b.) The United Nations’ continued push towards a more sustainable future (Wright 2004). More recently however, universities have moved beyond institutional commitment to quantifying and ranking sustainable progress in operations, planning, administration, student engagement, and even courses and curricula focused on sustainable problem solving. Basile refers to this as a “quiet revolution in teaching and research in sustainability” (2011, 261).

This strengthening movement of sustainability education takes many forms, taught in business management, environmental science, engineering, conservation, and political policy.

Although various definitions of “sustainability” exist, it is widely agreed that it is interdisciplinary in nature, and focuses on the interaction of humans (including both well-being and social structures, such as economy) and their physical environment and resources therein, efficiently balancing environmental, economic, and social concerns without the significant compromise of any one of those three “pillars.” Because the WCED used the phrase “sustainable development” in 1987, this is a common title for sustainability studies, although more recently, “sustainability science,” “resilience,” and in some cases, “Earth-system science” may be considered synonymous with sustainability studies.

“Geography,” too, is a well known word with many interpretations. Like sustainability, geography has a contested identity, often meaning a different course of study for different people. Geography serves as bridge between the physical and social sciences and therefore is interdisciplinary in nature, focusing on interactions and interconnections between humans and their environment at various scales (local, regional, global) at present and though time. In modern academia it can take many forms…economic geography, feminist theory geography, study of globalization, and the like; always chorological in nature, and more often utilizing spatial tools.

Many have noted that the theory and tools of geography translate well to sustainability studies (Manning 1990; McManus 2004; Gregory et al. 2002; Selby 2006; Liu 2011; Bennett 2013). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE), National Research Council (NRC), The National Science Foundation (NSF), and other organizations have made calls for the inclusion of geographic theory, tools, and perspective in sustainability studies.

1.2 Problem Statement Literature suggests that geography has not taken a significant role in sustainability education (Bednarz 2006, McManus 2006, Liu 2012, Bennett 2013). Although the connection to human-environment studies makes geography the ideal discipline to lead sustainability education, geographers are not taking a lead role in sustainability courses in the U.S.

1.3 Purpose and Scope Universities are approaching sustainability education in two general ways: the inclusion of sustainability studies across the curriculum, incorporated into “core” or introductory courses;

or through the implementation of sustainability theory via disciplinary knowledge (Appel et al.

2004). In a 2004 study of the implementation of sustainability foci within disciplinary education, Appel and colleagues concluded that implementation of new sustainability curricula must take place while “meeting the university structure,” which in modern academia means working within existing disciplines (214). “Educating students for sustainable development,” they continued, “means educating students in disciplinary knowledge. Offering a sustainability perspective within the disciplinary knowledge base is the first step in understanding the relevance of one’s own discipline for sustainability and of sustainability for that discipline” (214).

The purpose of this study is to examine sustainability studies within disciplinary context, specifically evaluating the role of geography in offering sustainability courses. The scope of this research is universities that have self-identified as leaders in campus sustainability, using the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) participation as an indicator. Further, because the focus is on the role of geography in offering sustainability curriculum, only universities with geography programs were examined. In addition to sustainability courses listed in STARS, the Association of American Geographers (AAG) Guide to Programs specializations is an indicator of sustainability-curriculum focus.

As a result, the following research questions emerged.

1. What percentage of overall curriculum is devoted to Sustainability Focused courses at Gold, Silver, and Bronze awarded STARS institutions in the United States, and do Gold institutions teach a higher percentage of sustainability classes?

2. What departments within STARS universities offer sustainability curriculum?

3. At STARS institutions, what proportion of Sustainability Focused courses are taught in

–  –  –

4. What is the current focus of geography departments at STARS institutions according to AAG Guide to Program Specializations?

1.4 Justification of Study Studying the role of geography in sustainability education is important for several reasons. First, creating courses focused on sustainability or sustainable problem solving, or implementing these themes more explicitly into existing courses, would allow geography departments to capitalize on the growing field of sustainability studies (Liu 2011). Students are requesting this curriculum, and thus far, geography has not satisfied these requests. A study recently published by the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) found that out of all 398 Sustainability Specializations and Concentrations offered in the United States, only 3% were housed in Geography units (Vincent 2012).

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