Dr. Debra Petersen Earns 2015 Curricular Innovation in Sustainability Award

Debra Petersen

Debra Petersen

The Center for Global and Local Engagement has awarded Dr. Debra L. Petersen, Department of Communication and Journalism, the 2015 Curricular Innovation in Sustainability Award for her work developing and implementing COJO 100 Public Speaking with a sustainable food systems theme.

Petersen not only has integrated sustainability topics into a course not typically addressing sustainability, but also has tackled it comprehensively, creating a driving theme throughout the course. Elise Amel, director of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives noted, “This is exactly the kind of course innovation and implementation that our university needs in order for our graduates to function sustainably.”

Petersen's course has had significant reach, serving a broad spectrum of students (including business, health and human performance, computer science and history majors) who take it as an allied requirement for their majors. She has used this theme in over a dozen of her sections of COJO 100, impacting over 200 students so far.

“Debra Petersen’s work models the call from our strategic plan to engage proactively across disciplinary lines. Her effort represents the values at the core of the Center of Global and Local Engagement mission to encourage and enable 'One University' collaborations,” said Camille George, associate vice provost for global and local engagement.

To prepare and execute her course, Petersen has taken advantage of the myriad resources made available by the College of Arts and Sciences, Faculty Development Center and the St. Thomas libraries. She was inspired to create the food/sustainability theme for her sections of Public Speaking during the faculty/staff “Food for Thought” seminar in 2010-11 and the “Connecting Food and Our Curriculum” faculty development summer seminar during  summer 2011. She received a CAS Environmental Stewardship Curriculum Grant in 2011-12 to assist in implementing this theme.

In addition, each semester she integrates an embedded librarian into the course. This librarian provides in-class guidance based on students’ interests and compiles a broad array of resources that cover science, environment, statistics, politics, technology, business, government and education.

Students like that they can pursue their own interests and yet all of the diverse speeches remain interconnected due to the theme. This allows them not only to feel more confident with their public speaking, but also to obtain significant depth of knowledge about the theme. Feedback from students indicates that the sustainability/food theme led to speeches that were meaningful, significant, relevant, interesting, practical and even surprising. International students in particular report that the theme has been a good way for them to fit into the class by sharing some of their culture and that they have learned much about St. Thomas culture through these topics.

“Public Speaking is not an obvious place to find ecological literacy material, but Debra has made it a natural fit and has designed it in a way that draws in even the skeptical students!” Amel said.

Previous Curricular Innovation in Sustainability awardees include Dalma Martinovic in 2013 and Tim Scully in 2014. Learn more about the award on the Center for Global and Local Engagement website.