Education News

Workshop in Sustainable Development

2011-07-25

Thirty-four undergraduates gathered to present their final recommendations for three clients as part of the Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development. This workshop is a required course for the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development. Under the guidance of Stuart Gaffin, the faculty adviser, the goal of the capstone workshop is to bring together the theoretical and environmental sustainability concepts students have learned through their coursework and apply these concepts to real-world, client-driven cases. "The workshop topics deal with problems of the clients’ choosing—something in the workday world that they, the clients, are wrestling with, be it measuring wetlands loss rates, urban heat island mitigation or green building design. No matter what the problem, the sustainable development students are able to rise to the occasion and craft a method to solve or address the problem,” says Gaffin.

The Workshop in Sustainable Development brings together the knowledge and theories that students have gained in the classroom and gives them the opportunity to apply them to craft everyday, practical solutions. Students were split into three groups and worked with a faculty adviser on the following client projects:

The first group was tasked with creating an engaging course curriculum on climate change that would promote the existing Urban Park Rangers Natural Classroom program in New York City. Directly impacting forty thousand students from kindergarten to eighth grade, the program focuses on educating students and park visitors on the facts of climate change and its adverse consequences. By integrating appealing concepts with hands-on activities, the students created training modules that will allow park rangers to engage visitors and make connections between science, human behavior and climate change. One such example was having visitors fill cups with water, place the cups on either a white or black sheet of paper, and wrap the cup in plastic to simulate the atmosphere. Visitors would then place the cups in direct sunlight and measure the change in water temperature, modeling the impact of atmospheric changes caused by the depletion of the ozone layer.

Team Promesa/Basics, Inc. provided recommendations for the design of green areas at the Mosholu Gardens in the Norwood area of the Bronx. The Mosholu Gardens will potentially provide affordable and supportive housing, mostly for community members with special needs. With the integration of a green roof, therapeutic gardens and urban farming as designed by the students, residents will benefit not only from the positive effects of environmental interaction, but also from exercise, security and comfort provided by the garden areas. Students carefully selected native New York vegetation and complex rooftop and garden landscaping to provide a more sustainable communal area design. The environmentally conscious design envisioned by the students would not only provide a therapeutic atmosphere for the inhabitants of the building, but would also deliver the additional benefits of greener housing designs.

The final team, SEED, presented a business plan for development in the green technology sector. By collecting data from comparable projects and market research, the team formulated the concept of building a facility to house various green vendors, educational resources, conferences and exhibits. Using strategic location and funding to support the team mission to combine new technologies, education and the incentive to “buy green” in our daily lives, the facility would be accessible to a large population of consumers interested in learning about state-of-the-art technology, materials and waste management options available for greener and safer construction and living. Students also provided a plan for financial sustainability with short- and long-term funding possibilities including advertisement and membership fees, space rentals, exhibitions, and partnerships with environmental and charity organizations. Mark Robbins, the client, applauded the students for doing “a fantastic job of synthesizing” information on real estate, which was no easy feat.

"The capstone workshop final reports are always very impressive and have spanned a very large range of environmental studies over the years. It is a testament to the effectiveness of the sustainable development major and special concentration that the students always rise to the challenge of successfully addressing such complex problems, even though they have little or no prior experience with the specific topics. The clients have always been deeply impressed by the student work and products they deliver," said Gaffin.

Due to the increase in student enrollment, the Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development, which was originally only offered in the spring, is now also being offered in the fall semester. For questions about upcoming projects or for general information on the program, please contact Natalie Unwin-Kuruneri, program manager, at natalie@ei.columbia.edu.