UTRGV is dedicated to being an intellectual beacon and transformative force for the Rio Grande Valley. Instilling in students, faculty, staff, and community a consciousness that balances their social, environmental, and economic aspirations is integral to the University’s mission. This purposeful observation of forces, and the incorporation of sustainability concepts into university culture, with the creation, dissemination, and application of new areas of academic scholarship, prepares civic and professional leaders who will discover and apply solutions to the environmental and economic challenges of the 21st century. Efforts to manifest positive change must look to the root of the problem through various lenses of expertise, recognizing that a complex system of social and economic conditions drive human activity.
Recently, interest in infusing sustainable topics into the classroom has spread far beyond faculty in the fields of environmental science. Since the program was initiated, educators from nearly all of UTRGV’s colleges have participated in Project Sin Fronteras (PSF), an intensive two-day faculty development program with a focus on curriculum integration in reference to sustainability. PSF guides instructors through the organization and use of knowledge as a tool to serve the basic premise of educating for sustainability--the development of an educated citizenry who contribute to a healthy, secure, prosperous, and democratic society.
Since its inception, the program has established a common goal for UTRGV curriculum and brought together faculty from all fields, allowing for an exchange of ideas that fosters an enriching collaborative atmosphere on campus. Many faculty, who have gone through the PSF program, have introduced hands-on learning experiences to their classes. Connecting students to problems in their communities gives students a holistic, systemic understanding of sustainability and a sense of civil service while improving something tangible in the world.
In late 2016, UTRGV was awarded the designation from AASHE, "Center for Sustainability Across Curriculum." Thus Project Sin Fronteras will continue to exist in that context. UTRGV's efforts will focus again on our own faculty development but also will reach out to programs across the nation and the globe as we strive to education for sustainable development.
More active information can be found on our webpage, "Center for Sustainability Across Curriculum."
Project Sin Fronteras (PSF) has developed a strong record of helping participants change not merely what they teach but how they teach. Consequently, alumni of the workshops have reported significant changes in pedagogy. Student participation is essential to sustainability in higher education, and the current generation of students is engaged and eager to make a difference through planning, teamwork, and sacrifice. Providing students with opportunities to contribute directly to causes, raise awareness, and engage in conversation about sustainability is key to instilling those values in students and demands a commitment on the educators’ parts to active and problem-solving pedagogies. New assignments immerse students in investigative and reflective activities with the surrounding natural world and human-constructed environment, often pointing toward innovation and change. The kinds of fundamental changes in course content and method typical of PSF alumni reflect that this commitment is widespread at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
PSF workshops follow the pedagogical approach developed by its first speaker, Susan Santone. Santone’s approach to curriculum integration, “Inquiry as Narrative: A Process for Instructional Design,” guides instructors through the organization and use of knowledge as a tool to serve the basic premise of educating for sustainability: the development of an educated citizenry who contribute to a healthy, secure, prosperous, and democratic society. Santone is qualified to certify PSF attendees who go through a process to lead future PSF sessions themselves. A faculty leader, Amy M. Hay, received this certification from Santone, and provided the training to the next two PSF sessions.
Santone points out that curriculum integration is limited by the specialization that is often rewarded within disciplines. Meeting the demands of sustainability may require breaking from the confines of an individual discipline; changes in course delivery, credits, program requirements, and the way educators are prepared should be organized based on the demands of the issue. This reframing is necessary to yield solutions that transcend disciplinary boundaries and address the complex nature of global problems.
To that end, Santone differentiates between two pedagogical approaches: inter/multidisciplinary and trans-disciplinary approaches. Trans-disciplinary, or “across” disciplinary approaches are more involved with issues of social and personal significance. They more often enact real-world change than multidisciplinary teaching methods, and better meet the ultimate goal of sustainability--healthy and democratic societies. Santone calls for these to become the goals of education as well, not standards or requirements. “Such framing would shift the discussion from integrating sustainability into the curriculum to integrating the curriculum to support the goals of sustainability.” Inter/multidisciplinary approaches cross and combine two or more disciplines in analysis of sustainable situations, but might paint a fractured picture of sustainability in that it is not applied; the demands of each discipline drive instruction in ways that don’t necessarily apply to finding solutions.
Project Sin Fronteras has hosted sustainability-knowledgeable speakers from around the country, including curriculum development specialists and sustainability program organizers. They are individuals who have already participated in similar programs at peer institutions and who lend their expertise to faculty on the second day of the workshop.
Links to PSF Videos/You Tube