Harvard Professor Spearheads Global Sustainability Course
The multiple challenges of sustainability in the 21st century transcend borders. This summer, a multinational group of students took on those challenges in Tokyo through an interdisciplinary course team-taught by James Engell, Gurney Professor of English Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard; Kevin Griffin, a terrestrial biologist from Columbia University; Loke Ming Chou, a marine biologist from the National University of Singapore; and Shiqiu Zhang, an environmental economist from Peking University.
Engell, a HUCE faculty associate, helped design the course, “Global Seminar on Sustainability,” as part of the Global Honors College, a program that assembles academically talented students from universities in Asia and America to provide a comprehensive overview of enduring and emerging global issues. “The course brings together different disciplines and different cultures to examine a large, common challenge,” Engell explains. “Ultimately, we hope to mitigate social and cultural boundaries and use science to examine the bigger picture of sustainability.”
Thirty-one students—from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, University of Washington, MIT, Korea National University, National University of Singapore, Waseda University in Japan, and Peking University in China—took to the web in June for the first phase of the course. For seven weeks, they linked up for readings, postings, videos, and podcasts on four units: terrestrial biodiversity; environmental economics and sustainability; marine biodiversity; and humanistic and interdisciplinary perspectives. Faculty members provided feedback and oversaw their work.
On August 2, the group gathered at Waseda University in Tokyo for the final phase. They spent three weeks participating in intensive discussion, making group and team reports, doing Internet research in scientific and other journals, and taking field trips. In supplementary talks, they heard directly from Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, and a company that makes mosquito netting for use in Africa.
Although the end of summer brought Harvard participants Emily Hughes ’11, Tiziana Smith ’11, and student mentor Ewa Sadej ’12 (who took a version of the course in 2009) back to Cambridge, their engagement did not end there—all three continue to be involved in environmental issues and study.
This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of Environment@Harvard.