This interdisciplinary, multi-layered, and research-based project will create a campus-wide sustainability challenge involving a friendly and supportive competition between students, faculty and staff on the UW Tacoma campus to lose carbon weight. The competition, based on a successful pilot study (“UWT’s Biggest Loser”) conducted in autumn 2014, leverages social networks between students and their teachers that begin in the classroom and spread through the employment of “challenges” that students give to other members of the UW Tacoma community. The project as a whole begins with a workshop where ten participating faculty representing many divisions of the school of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences learn how to incorporate key concepts of sustainability into their course syllabi. Faculty will use their revised syllabi to participate in the campus challenge in autumn 2015: while they teach students core environmental concepts in the classroom, the students apply their knowledge in their everyday lives to lose carbon weight using standardized measurement tools.
The proposed project builds on the success of the pilot study and broadens the scope to include a research component. The initial study found that when students completed weekly writing assignments about their sustainable behavior they began to engage in deeper contemplation about environmental issues, including a perception of their own role in the continuance or resolution of these issues. As a result, during the “challenge” phase of the project, faculty will collect weekly reflections from the students about the environmental changes they are making in their lives on and off campus. Student coders will analyze the student reflections for key themes –including the “intellectual development scheme” developed by Perry (1970) for college students– as they relate to sustainable behavior and beliefs. Once the coding is complete, participating faculty will create collaborative research projects with other faculty and students that include presentations at national conferences and publications. The resulting data can be used in myriad ways: to identify barriers to specific environmental behaviors; to understand the role that reflection plays in making sustained environmental changes; and to build on existing research assessing the utility of social networks for sustainable change in academic settings.
This project meets the central goals of the University of Washington Climate Action Plan by: 1) significantly reducing the UW Tacoma community's carbon footprint by three million pounds; 2) potentially creating a successful model for the incorporation of sustainability principles into course curricula that can be applied by all three campuses; and 3) engaging faculty and students in collaborative research focused on sustainability.