STEM Engaged Learning

SUSTAIN at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Chanting “we are unstoppable; another world is possible,” Cal Poly students in the SUSTAIN program display their enthusiasm for participating in a program where they become citizens with both scientific understanding and human capacity to live lives that prioritize energy conservation and efficiency as part of the interrelated web of citizen behaviors that affect our common ability to thrive on the earth. To facilitate these aims, students took courses together, were involved in projects in the community, and participated in dialogues organized around themes within sustainability (energy, water, population, sustainable development, systems thinking and materials). The courses included communication (English Composition; Communication Studies), the liberal arts (Music of the ‘60’s; Culture and Politics in the United States) and the physical sciences (Biology; Physics).

The SUSTAIN learning community, built from an existing community-engaged learning initiative at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, consisted of 85 freshman students from different majors working with about 12 sophomore mentors, 11 faculty coaches and 12 community agencies in team-based projects from January to June 2013. The aim of the learning community was to enable scientifically and socially-informed citizens with an ethic of personal and social responsibility around sustainability, including energy efficiency and conservation.  Four of the community partners were agencies that support K-12 education.  The outcomes include 16 web-based project reports and a video summary of the learning community and its impact. Students reported experiencing profound changes through their involvement in this learning community. In particular, two validated assessment instruments revealed that the SUSTAIN students reported greater meaning (course value), personal change (personal learning) and learning gains than students at the same level of college. Additionally, SUSTAIN students also exhibited motivational states that are associated with deeper learning: higher intrinsic motivation with lower investment in punishments and rewards. In other words, it wasn’t about the grades; it was about what they were learning and how they could apply it to change the world.

All student community project links can be accessed here.

A student reflection assignment best sums up the SUSTAIN experience:

    “SUSTAIN will completely change your perspective on everything. Yes, ‘everything’ is sort of vague and intangible but SUSTAIN lives in the realm of the vague and the intangible. It is the college experience that you envisioned when you came to Cal Poly; asking the big questions, making an honest effort to answer them; realizing that you never will; and discovering things you never knew about yourself in the process.”

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo SUSTAIN student participants created a backyard harvest-gleaning program that allowed neighborhood residents to share the abundance of produce they have.

For a comprehensive overview of the grant project, view their video: