Sustainability has roots in the study of sustainable development, which encompasses economic development, social development, and environmental protection – the three areas considered the three pillars of sustainability. Sustainability is an interdisciplinary field with many careers and graduate opportunities drawing from the knowledge of biological and physical sciences, economics, geography, technology, engineering, social sciences, environmental resource management, and environmental policy. The new sustainability degree within the Department of Geography explores a systems approach to understanding the connections among society, economic productivity, and environmental quality, and is interdisciplinary in nature. By studying the three pillars of sustainability, students will be prepared to engage in Tennessee’s growing green economy.
During the academic year 2012-2013, sustainability became an academic concentration within the Interdisciplinary Programs (IDP) in the College of Arts and Sciences. Due to the popularity of sustainability and steady and growing enrollment, the program was elevated to a Bachelor’s of Arts in Sustainability in academic year 2017-2018 within the Department of Geography. Sustainability was the first concentration within the IDP to make the move to a full-fledged bachelor’s degree. The transition was such a great success that other IDP concentrations, such as Neuroscience and Global Studies, are following suite and will now become stand-alone bachelor’s degrees within established academic departments.
Transitioning sustainability from a concentration to a stand-alone bachelor’s degree within the Department of Geography provides students with the support, organization, and career networking opportunities the IDP concentration lacked. Faculty and staff within the department can provide communication, marketing, and outreach for the sustainability degree program to ensure its success and growth in the future.
The Department of Geography provides a good academic base for the sustainability program. There is a national trend for geography departments to create sustainability programs due to the overlapping knowledge bases with sustainability. Such knowledge bases include human and physical systems within local, regional, and global contexts, climate change, urban development, global economies, geographic information sciences, land-use and land-change, water resources, human-environment interactions, and social justice.
A core goal of the sustainability degree program is to improve undergraduate education continuously through experiential learning. The introductory sustainability course, Sustainability: Reducing our Impact on Planet Earth, has a service learning designation, which will provide students the opportunity to participate in service hours with a community partner. This experience engages students with civic-based learning and an opportunity to experience sustainability issues and solutions within the Knoxville community. During the 2018-2019 academic year, a Field Experiences in Sustainability course will provide the opportunity for students to pursue sustainability-focused undergraduate research experiences or internships as a way to prepare students for either graduate education or careers in sustainability-related fields.