The list of sustainability-related research activities taking place at Purdue is extensive. Over 150 faculty members identified their research as "environmental" in fiscal year 2005/06. With the country’s collective attention to sustainability issues expanding greatly since then, it follows naturally that even more Purdue faculty and research now focuses in this area. New interdisciplinary research currently being explored include persistent organic pollutants, solar cell technology, emissions trading policy, biofuels policy and technology, climate modeling, climate change mitigation and adaptation, building energy modeling and optimization, high performance building design and materials, water quality and hydrology, nanotechnology, and biodiversity conservation. This is by no means an exhaustive list that indicates just how expansive sustainability-related research is at Purdue.
In an effort to make the university more competitive in securing grants and executing interdisciplinary research projects in this field, Purdue is launching the Global Sustainability Initiative. The initiative will integrate several existing research centers under one roof in Discovery Park. The initial partners in this effort will be the Center for the Environment (C4E), the Energy Center (EC), and the Purdue Climate Change Research Center (PCCRC). The new initiative is intended to facilitate collaboration, increase the university’s visibility, and propel Purdue into a leadership position in sustainability research.
Bringing the campus’s multidisciplinary sustainability research into its classrooms is an ongoing process. As part of its Engineering 20/20 initiative, the College of Engineering created a program that provides faculty with monetary compensation for developing class modules that incorporate sustainability concepts into existing traditional disciplinary courses. About twenty-five faculty members and instructional staff from nine engineering disciplines participated in 2009, the first year the program was offered. At its core, the program recognizes that students need to be familiar with sustainability to be competitive in future engineering job markets. Similar faculty incentive programs could be adopted in other departments to make sustainability learning relevant to students within their diverse areas of study.
There are several one-time, project-based course offerings at Purdue where sustainability is the primary focus. In 2007, an interdisciplinary class calculated Purdue’s carbon footprint and recommended strategies to reduce the university’s net carbon emissions to zero. Another course analyzed the campus’s water footprint. To help students get connected with these types of project-based classes and other environmentally themed classes, some departments and research centers circulate lists of relevant courses. However, sustainability-related classes are not systematically inventoried or placed in a centralized catalogue, making it more challenging for students to locate available courses.
Purdue has sixteen undergraduate academic majors that focus on environmental topics covering a diverse collection of subjects, from environmental chemistry to forestry to natural resource planning. The Pre-Environmental Studies program for freshman allows new students to explore these majors and work with an academic advisor to choose a degree that matches their interests. Purdue also has two environmental minor programs for students that wish to incorporate sustainability into their larger educational or career ambitions. The Environmental Policy minor in the Political Science department is open to all undergraduate students. In the College of Engineering, the Environmental and Ecological Engineering minor is open to all non-engineers.
Sustainability-related graduate programs include Ecological Sciences and Engineering, an interdisciplinary graduate program that spans the Colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, Liberal Arts, and Science. Additional programs are under development, including new graduate education around the theme, "the solar economy," which is funded by a new Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant awarded by the National Science Foundation.
While there are many dispersed opportunities related to sustainability education at Purdue, it is not always easy for interested students to develop and plan coursework in this area. Additionally, some on campus are concerned that students who are not specifically interested in sustainability issues are not exposed to the topic or offered the opportunity to consider how it relates to their area of study. As the university enhances its sustainability coursework and program offerings, it will also need to develop stronger outreach strategies to inform students of these opportunities.
Purdue preliminarily proposes tracking the following metrics to assess its sustainability-related academics and research performance overtime. Given the complexities of developing metrics for this area that are both accurate and useful, a faculty work group will be formed to assess the value and logistical requirements of these and other metrics.
Academics: 2014 Short Term Goals
- Create an inclusive workgroup to study and recommend how best to incorporate sustainability into the Purdue curriculum.
- Promote the development of service learning courses with faculty sponsorship that use on-campus projects to teach and apply sustainability principles.
Academics: 2025 Long Term Goals
- Formalize a process to maintain an accurate and up to date list of sustainability-related courses that includes new and one-time variable title offerings.
- Provide education and outreach to student advisors to direct interested students into sustainability themed courses and minors.
- Create and support a Green Week group that is responsible for developing a vision for future Purdue Green Weeks.
- Support the development of sustainability themed, cross-disciplinary courses by making it easier for faculty, logistically and otherwise. Develop a program that offers incentive money to faculty that incorporates sustainability modules into lectures.
- Investigate options for additional graduate level interdisciplinary graduate programs or certificate programs. For example, when the new public policy institute opens there will be many opportunities for environmental or science concentrations.
Research: 2014 Short Term Goals
- Investigate strategies to improve integration of current research with the deployment of on-campus sustainability projects to create linkages between Purdue’s operational activities and academia.
Research: 2025 Long Term Goals
- Conduct year-round research, educational seminars, workshops, conferences and events involving sustainability.
- Continue to build stronger research and teaching linkages between social science/humanities and engineering/science faculty across campus.
- Support on campus student research in the social science behind decision-making related to sustainability so that projects at Purdue are designed to work correctly and are introduced to the campus appropriately and effectively.
- Explore global research opportunities in sustainability with key partnering institutions around the world.
- Offer graduate student research assistantships to study on-campus sustainability-related topics. The students' major professor would remain the advisor but the topic selection and assistantship awards would come through the Sustainability Steering Committee.