Teamwork Sparks Change

Photo of people gathered around a chalkboard globe on a table


The world of higher education is changing. There are online classes and newly minted social media degrees, but there’s one change to be particularly excited about at the University of San Diego: interdisciplinary courses.

This past year, three USD professors teamed up to co-teach a sustainability class. The most interesting part? They don’t all specialize in environmental science. Associate Professor Mark Woods teaches philosophy; Assistant Professor Julia Cantzler is a sociologist and Associate Professor Michel Boudrias specializes in oceanography and marine biology. As it turns out, it’s their differences that made the class innovative and exciting.

“Dr. Boudrias, Dr. Woods and I were all already teaching environmental courses through our own disciplinary lenses, but we believed strongly that for students to adequately address environmental problems in the real world, they should understand the scientific, ethical and sociological implications of these challenges,” Cantzler explains.

Instead of only focusing on theories and textbooks, the professors joined together to create a class that was meant to truly spark change. According to their students, they succeeded.

For fourth-year environmental studies major Claire Flynn, the class was unlike any class she had taken before, because it approached topics through multiple lenses. 

“Students from all three classes were able to come together, meet in groups, and work on a proposal to impact sustainability at USD,” Flynn says. “It was really interesting and engaging to be able to be a part of this collaboration between different fields. It’s essentially what I think a liberal arts education should be. It was enriching to be able to look at something as broad but important as sustainability, and see how different disciplines interpret the same concept.”

For these students, learning wasn’t just about reading books or interpreting topics. It was also about creating actual solutions to the world’s environmental problems.

“It was so inspiring for me to see how innovative and thoughtful the student team projects turned out to be,” Cantzler recalls. “The teams came up with several really cool ideas. For example, one team produced a genuinely creative and sophisticated analysis of a zero emissions commuter program from the beaches to campus utilizing a Tesla Model X fleet. Another memorable proposal called for converting Marian Way into a permaculture garden using edible landscaping. Another team proposed donating food waste from catering events and dining services to local organizations that feed the hungry.”

With a world that is faced with rapid climate change, joining forces and learning from one another is more important than ever before. If the enthusiasm of these team-taught students is any indication, the future of our planet may not be as grim as we fear.

“Right now, my favorite part of teaching has been to see my students really become motivated by what they are learning in class to take meaningful steps toward addressing the social and environmental challenges that we face today,” Cantzler says. “Instead of being overwhelmed and disheartened by the scope and gravity of these challenges, the students are always looking for solutions.”   — Taylor Milam

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