Diversity and Democracy

Sustainable Energy Studies at Eastern Connecticut State University

Like many institutions, Eastern Connecticut State University is committed to advancing environmental sustainability both in its institutional practices and through its educational goals. As part of this commitment, Eastern's Department of Environmental Earth Science has developed educational programs in sustainable energy. The motivations for doing so are complex, but stem from the realization that fossil fuel consumption has devastating effects on the environment. Local impacts include air and water pollution, while the major global impact is anthropogenic climate change—a particularly potent motivator, as it threatens human health and welfare and poses increasing risks to future generations.

Eastern Connecticut State University students build a wind power system for a school in Lucea, Jamaica.
Eastern Connecticut State University students build a wind power system for a school in Lucea, Jamaica.

Because per capita energy use in the United States is much higher than the global average, the United States has an obligation to provide leadership in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Eastern's programs aim to assist students not only in addressing this responsibility, but also in developing the knowledge and skills they need to build successful postgraduate careers.

Academic Programs at Eastern

Eastern's programs in Sustainable Energy Studies are the vehicle for implementing the academic component of the institution's vision for campus sustainability. Two introductory courses, Sustainable Energy and Global Climate Change, are popular general education options that offer gateways into the major, minor, and certificate programs. These courses describe the environmental consequences of fossil fuel consumption and explore strategies for adapting to or mitigating climate change and other environmental impacts. They use discussion, essay writing, and analysis to help students think critically about connections between energy consumption, environmental resources, population, wealth, and sustainability. The courses conclude with participation in a sustainability symposium, where students exhibit the results of group projects that address environmental and social issues related to energy consumption. Educational outcomes include the ability to clearly articulate connections between energy consumption and environmental and social impacts, and the ability to develop and analyze science-based strategies to reduce these impacts.

Sustainable Energy Studies Programs

More information about Eastern Connecticut State University’s major, minor, and certificate programs in Sustainable Energy Studies is available at http://www.easternct.edu/

After completing the introductory courses, some students elect to enroll in the Sustainable Energy Science major program, which exists as a track for those pursuing bachelor of science degrees in Environmental Earth Science. Students in the major acquire technical knowledge and skills in energy analysis, and they learn how that knowledge can be applied in geoscience. They take core courses where they develop scientific understanding of energy resources, renewable energy, and alternative energy technologies, as well as awareness about how these technologies can reduce social and environmental impacts. They also learn to acquire data, analyze energy resources, and model energy applications and energy systems. Many students complete a related internship or an independent study project involving technical, economic, and social analysis. Recent projects have included developing educational materials for middle schools, helping to implement an energy conservation program in the community, helping to develop a renewable energy plan for the campus, and creating a map of geothermal resources in southern New England. The major program prepares students for graduate study in energy science or energy policy or for careers in a wide variety of sectors: government agencies, electric utilities, businesses, education, and nonprofits that address related environmental and social issues. The second cohort of students will graduate from the program in spring 2011.

The interdisciplinary minor in Sustainable Energy Studies integrates social science and natural science into a program that puts energy-related environmental issues within their appropriate economic and political science contexts. Students in the minor program complete the introductory courses and the core energy science courses described above and also choose from a set of approved social science courses. Students select the Sustainable Energy Studies minor to pursue their interest in environmental issues and to prepare for a wide spectrum of future careers, ranging from communication to business.

Working with Eastern's School of Continuing Education, Sustainable Energy Studies faculty have also developed a Green Energy Management for Sustainability certificate program delivered through online courses for nontraditional students. This project has been particularly rewarding, as nontraditional students bring valuable life and work experience to the program, enriching student-faculty interactions with their knowledge and perspectives. The certificate program also helps nontraditional students gain valuable knowledge that enables them succeed in their current jobs or begin new careers.

Outreach Activities

Students, staff, and faculty in Sustainable Energy Studies feel that we have an obligation to share our knowledge and skills with the campus and local community. We therefore reach beyond the science building to make connections both on and off campus, providing informal education and programming designed to build a culture of awareness and a shared sense of responsibility with regard to environmental issues.

Sustainable Energy Studies' on-campus activities convene faculty, staff, and students from every department on campus and from every aspect of campus operations. Participants lead recycling efforts, develop and maintain a campus carbon inventory, promote student environmental clubs, and help develop the climate action plan required by the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. As part of the Green Campus Committee, faculty, staff and students come together to share ideas and develop practical solutions to meet campus sustainability goals.

Community activities help students interact with the broad economic and ethnic diversity that is characteristic of the town of Willimantic, where Eastern is located. Faculty and students provide technical help and leadership to energy conservation efforts within the local community. These activities not only aid residents, but also allow students to apply their knowledge and gain experience.

University Initiatives

Eastern recently completed a new strategic plan that includes two key initiatives relevant to Sustainable Energy Studies: Liberal Arts Work and Global Citizenship. The goal of Liberal Arts Work is that every student complete an internship, independent study project, or other preprofessional experiential learning activity geared toward applying a liberal arts education in a professional setting. Global Citizenship is an initiative designed to expose every student to diverse viewpoints and unfamiliar cultures as a compulsory element of his or her liberal arts education. Each student must complete one course that has been approved as part of the Global Citizenship curriculum. Students can also fulfill additional requirements to reach higher levels of achievement within the program.

Faculty in Sustainable Energy Studies are committed to developing a range of experiential learning activities that will fulfill these requirements. Through longstanding relationships between Eastern and educational institutions in Jamaica, we were able to identify a school in Lucea, Jamaica, that was interested in working with us to develop a service-learning project focused on designing and implementing a renewable energy system. Students and faculty designed a small wind power system for the school, and two faculty members and ten students traveled to Jamaica during spring break to implement the project. This project not only served our community partners, but was also an excellent learning experience for students and faculty. We are now seeking to develop a long-term service-learning project in Jamaica or another locale that will enable students to meet both the Liberal Arts Work and Global Citizenship Initiatives goals.


Eastern Connecticut State University's Sustainable Energy Studies programs build on the strengths of our liberal arts context. The programs prepare students for future employment, but also prepare them to serve the diverse communities that constitute the state and region—and even the planet. We are acting on our obligation to people around the globe and to those who have not yet been born, ensuring that Eastern's faculty, students, and staff help develop strategies for responding to climate change.

Fred Loxsom is the endowed chair in Sustainable Energy Studies, and Norma Vivar is the technical assistant and outreach specialist, both of the Department of Environmental Earth Science at Eastern Connecticut State University.

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