COE focuses on social sustainability in November Spotlight

By Ellie Phillips | 10/31/12 5:16pm


Courtesy /
College of Education Dean Elaine C. Collins

With six featured projects and eight sustainability-related courses, the College of Education will be featured this month as Grand Valley State University’s November Sustainability Spotlight.

Sustainability is a large topic that involves three major factors: Economic sustainability, environmental sustainability and social sustainability. COE, though it has tendrils in the other two areas, focuses specially on the social aspect of sustainability.

“The COE is very strong in promoting social sustainability, as the impact we have on the lives of our students can dramatically improve communities and foster sustainable societies,” said Alex Jacobsson, dean’s office coordinator. “The challenge in the future is to create a balance between the three areas of sustainability, not only within the COE, but in individual programs and projects, as well.”

One of the college’s featured initiatives is the Groundswell project, “a hands-on environmental learning education initiative focused on helping teachers and students identify and take action on local environmental issues,” according to their website. The project works with local schools in Kentwood County to engage students in hands-on experiences to help restore and protect the Grand River Watershed. It is funded through the donations of local organizations and unique professional development opportunities, and it incorporates the efforts of 4,000 students, 50 community partners, 40 teachers, 17 schools and 13 school districts.

Another means of social sustainability in COE is communication between alumni and students, which ensures efficiency in learning and employment. Alumni meet three times a year with students at the university to talk about education trends and to help students make cover letters and resumes. They also volunteer during move-in, homecoming and other projects during Community Outreach Week.

Yet another initiative is Adopt-A-District, which offers COE faculty, staff and students the opportunity to work with schools and districts in need of help and resources. This project began in 2003 and works to provide professional development, grant-writing, program development, student volunteer programs, and other opportunities for the districts.

“The College of Education (COE) believes in giving back to society,” said Elaine Collins, dean of the College of Education. “Our mission is to develop quality educators who are ‘Teaching, Leading, and Learning in a Democratic Society.’ This mission underscores our commitment to educating students to be increasingly responsible citizens. By enriching the lives of students, we hope they share their skills by improving their schools, neighborhoods and communities.”

The Service Learning Initiative is another sustainability project sponsored by the COE. The initiative works to improve the social conditions of the greater Grand Rapids area. It involves allowing pre-service teachers to spend a semester working within a local school developing community-based projects that deal with real issues in the community. These teachers study the ideas of citizenship, democracy, teamwork and social responsibility while they gain vital subject knowledge.

Another means of social sustainability is the COE-sponsored Study Abroad program to Puebla, Mexico. The project has been ongoing for 12 years, and in the spring the program shifted to Kingston, Jamaica. Students, faculty and staff participate in service learning projects, mainly by working to refurbish the SeaView Primary School. The study abroad program will also include a new program developed by Dr. Olivia Williams. Those involved with the program will travel to the Dominican Republic for two weeks in the summer of 2013.

Finally, COE offers a number of sustainability courses, including Organizing and Managing Classroom Environments, Diverse Perspectives on Education, Curricular Integration of Ed. Technology, Transition Practices, Educational Policy and Practices, Social/Cultural Foundations of Education, Organizational and Community Relations, and Leadership Theory into Practice.

For more information on COE’s featured programs and classes, visit the website at

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