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When the informal is the formal, the implicit is the explicit: Holistic sustainability education at Green Mountain College

Cosette M. Joyner Armstrong (Department of Design, Housing, and Merchandising, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA)
Gwendolyn Hustvedt (School of Family and Consumer Sciences, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA)
Melody L.A. LeHew (Department of Apparel, Textiles, and Interior Design, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA)
Barbara G. Anderson (Department of Apparel, Textiles, and Interior Design, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA)
Kim Y. Hiller Connell (Department of Apparel, Textiles, and Interior Design, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 7 November 2016

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this project is to provide an account of the student experience at a higher education institution known for its holistic approach to sustainability education.

Design/methodology/approach

A qualitative study was conducted at Green Mountain College (GMC), an environmental liberal arts school in Poultney, VT; 55 students participated in focus group interviews.

Findings

Students articulate that the most valuable gains that manifest at GMA are a variety of new capacities for science literacy, anthropological appreciation, the triple bottom line, a sense of place, systems, empathic decision-making and reasoning, interdisciplinary collaboration, and practical techniques supporting self-sufficiency. Prompting these emergent outcomes was a philosophy of practice at Green Mountain College, which included place-based techniques, empowerment, personalization, community ecology and charting polarity. Many students described their seeming metamorphosis as uncomfortable, and some felt isolated from the outside paradigm.

Research limitations/implications

A key implication of the study’s findings is that in a holistic setting, the line between the informal and formal curriculum are significantly blurred and what is implicitly communicated through university practices and values is what most transforms the students’ explicit understanding of sustainability.

Practical implications

Sustainability education is far more than technique, far more than what a lone instructor can manifest in students. While the persistence of individual faculty members is important, this evidence suggests that the fertile conditions for transformation may be more fruitful when faculty members work together with a collective sense of responsibility and a well-articulated paradigm.

Originality/value

The advantage of the present study is that it examines the perceived impact of a focus on sustainability across curricula and school by considering the educational environment as a whole. The experiences of students from many different majors who are involved in a holistic, sustainability-infused curriculum at a university with a history of successful post-graduation job placements in the sustainability field are explored here.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This project was supported by a USDA NIFA Higher Education Challenge Grant, titled “Making climate change a functioning thread in the baccalaureate curriculum: transforming fiber, textiles and clothing education”. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the USDA. The author team would like to thank the faculty members and students of Green Mountain College who participated in and contributed to this study.

Citation

Joyner Armstrong, C.M., Hustvedt, G., LeHew, M.L.A., Anderson, B.G. and Hiller Connell, K.Y. (2016), "When the informal is the formal, the implicit is the explicit: Holistic sustainability education at Green Mountain College", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 17 No. 6, pp. 756-775. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-02-2015-0012

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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