New Course to Cultivate Sustainability Efforts
by Peter Ramjug
How does Northeastern take sustainable practices to the next level?
A new course kicking off this fall will examine the university’s efforts to conserve energy, reduce food waste, and participate in other environmental initiatives that impact both the Boston campus and the residential neighborhoods surrounding it.
“Universities are anchors in their communities,” says Stephen Flynn, a professor of political science and a leading expert on critical infrastructure and supply chain resilience. “Providing leadership—not just thought leadership and leadership through research and teaching, but really through the engagement of the community—is essential to getting us to a better place.”
Flynn, founding director of Northeastern’s Global Resilience Institute, is one of the guest speakers for the seven-week course titled Sustainability & Resilience at Northeastern, which will meet Tuesday evenings in-person and online starting on Sept. 14. Registration is still open.
“What the events of just last week with Hurricane Ida really highlighted is that while we’re currently trying to do things to put us on a much better trajectory without doing harm to our environment, the reality is we have already triggered enormous disruption in our lives that is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future,” he says.
Flynn’s talk on resilience is scheduled for Sept. 28, and he’ll be joined by Maria Cimilluca, vice president of facilities management at Northeastern. She is leading efforts to transition some 140 gas-powered vehicles in the university’s fleet to electric models over the next few years. Charging stations are also being added to two campus parking garages.
Jennie Stephens, director of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, who conducts research on the social and political aspects of renewable energy transformation, energy democracy, and climate resilience, is the course’s primary instructor.
She and Kathy Spiegelman, vice president of campus planning and real estate, will kick off the seminar on Sept. 14 by sharing their expertise on sustainability, resilience, and climate justice. They will be followed the following week by Michael Kane, a civil and environmental engineering professor, and Joe Lalley, associate vice president of operations, who will speak about energy management.
Teaming researchers and campus operations leaders in each presentation is one of the hallmarks of the course, says Stephens. She points out that one of the biggest challenges with sustainability and resilience efforts at campuses across the country is that the academics who are doing the cutting-edge research and the individuals responsible for the day-to-day management of campus operations aren’t always aligned.
“This course is an attempt to bridge that divide,” Stephens says.
The seminar concludes on Oct. 26 with a look at the benefits and challenges of supporting an arboretum on an urban campus. The speakers are Kate Kennen, associate teaching professor of architecture, and Steve Schneider, the newly named director of horticulture and grounds.
The challenge for a historic city such as Boston, where the industrial landscape dates to the late 19th century, is that opportunities to modernize are few and far between, especially in some of the immediate areas around the Boston campus that have been historically underrepresented in plans to update city infrastructure.
“Northeastern, being in that neighborhood, is increasingly stepping out in front to help play more of a leadership role beyond our campus,” Flynn adds.
The course could open opportunities for students and the broader community to discuss what Northeastern might do differently, says Stephens, who plans to take a sabbatical next year to further explore how higher education can accelerate changes in society to be more sustainable and resilient.
“It’s an area that has a lot of potential for the university to play a different kind of role,” Stephens says.
Students enrolled in the new seminar can propose their own sustainability program as part of the one-credit course. “They will learn how to think critically, lay out the problem, propose solutions, and how that all works together in a big organization” like Northeastern, says Jacob Glickel, who works in the Office of Sustainability.
The seminar is also open to the public at no charge. Participants can attend the class in person at Shillman Hall without registering, but online attendees are asked to register.
“There are a lot of opportunities for Northeastern to have a bigger impact by paying more attention to what we do internally within our community and by connecting with the external community,” Stephens says.