Sustainable Cities?

A course designed to help students understand the role of cities and what possibilities they may hold for us in the future. Photo Attributions: "Horniman London skyline" by Cmglee, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. "Seoul Cityscape From the Sky Park" by Jimmy McIntyre - Editor HDR One Magazine licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. "2009-09-18 3060x1020 chicago skyline" by J. Crocker. "New York Skyline" by Allen Lew licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. "Frankfurt Skyline" by Kiefer licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.

What the course catalog says:

From the glistening desert skyscrapers of Dubai to the rainy streets of Seattle, more than half of all people on the planet live in an urban area. By 2050, this will increase to 70 percent. Given this demographic trend, it becomes impossible to think about environmental sustainability without paying close attention to our cities. Are cities good or evil? How can cities be more sustainable? This course seeks to understand the increasingly important role of the city and what possibilities it may hold for us in the future.

What the professor says:

J-term is a special beast. It allows us as professors to cross disciplinary boundaries and dig into special topics that aren't easily manageable in semester courses. It also allows students to take courses and explore ideas that they might not encounter in their chosen major. When would a nursing major otherwise find room for a course that talks about the innovative transportation system being developed in Curitiba, Brazil?

I find that once students get into the rhythm of J-term, they can afford to dig deeper into the topics we discuss, and they benefit from sustained, focused scholarship. I am always amazed at the quality students can produce when they are given the space J-term affords them, and I am always surprised by the insight students have on a topic that many are encountering for the first time. The cross disciplinary nature of J-term means that many of the students who sign on to my course have no background in the topics we explore, yet by the end of the course they have managed to put forth challenging ideas that force me to go home at night and rethink my orthodoxies. I think J-term is as good for my scholarship as it is for my students.

—Stratis Giannakouros, assistant director of the Center for Sustainable Communities

What the students say:

They didn’t offer a class like this at my high school, but I wish they had.

The first week was challenging for me because I was sitting in a room where half the kids were majoring in environmental studies (I am a nursing major). But after doing the readings, asking questions, and discussing the topics, I was able to understand the basis of the course. It was rewarding to learn a completely new topic and have no background, yet fully understand it. 

The classmate connection I made during J-term was pretty awesome. You spend so much time together that you really get to know each other.

—Kelsey Ott

Not only was this my first class on environmental studies, but this was also the first time I've had a class with this format. It allowed me to commit all of my attention to this one subject, and I think I got a lot more out of the class because of this intensive schedule. Having the three-hour class broken up into two periods allowed us to get a lot done without us losing focus or becoming overwhelmed.

—Liam Fraser 

Photo Attributions:

This course was different because it encouraged self-learning a lot. We held discussion-based classes everyday, and class participation was worth a lot of the grade. We were encouraged to give our point of view. We also had to lead class discussion. This allowed us to become experts in the material for that day and then get experience with leading and being a teacher. 

I get nervous when talking in front of people, so this type of class put me on edge at first. But getting through my fear of talking and teaching was a very rewarding experience. It helped induce confidence in my abilities and my knowledge. I learned that I actually can teach and that I have valuable things to say.

—Hannah O’Polka