Sustainable Academics & Coursework

A UMN Morris education is the sustainable foundation for any career.

At UMN Morris the goal is to study widely, work across disciplines, and step back to look at the big picture. These qualities of a Morris education will help solve the sustainability challenges ahead:

  • Critical thinking
  • Broad knowledge base
  • Problem solving
  • Creativity

Sustainability is woven into the fabric of our academics. From dedicated courses and programs focused on the environment and sustainability to sustainability themes and ideas being incorporated throughout our disciplines, Morris has a strong commitment to leadership in sustainable academics and ongoing expansion of our work and offerings in this important field.

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    Sustainability Leaders for the Future (SLF)

    Thanks in part to generous grant funding from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, the Sustainability Leaders for the Future (SLF) program is developing the next generation of leaders prepared to live in a more sustainable and carbon-constrained world. The program builds on Morris’s international reputation for:

    Replicable across other college campuses, the program builds on Morris’s international reputation for:

    • Engaging student leaders
    • Developing sustainability curriculum
    • Building environmentally sound facilities

    So far, the program has lead to:

    • the creation of seven sustainability-focused courses
    • revision of 12 courses to add sustainability content
    • a rise in our AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) STARS score from 68.87 to 70.84
    • development of the SLF fellows program for faculty, staff, and students
    • education and outreach efforts involving campus and surrounding community

    Here are some of the ongoing projects:

    Environmental Leadership and Stewardship Coursework

    A new Environmental Leadership and Stewardship academic area of emphasis prepares students to play a leading role in solving environmental problems and developing sustainable practices in a wide range of contexts. With sufficient student interest, this area of emphasis could become a standard minor at UMN Morris. Courses and activities include:

    • ENST 1101 Environmental Problems and Policy 
    • CMR 2102 Communication and the Environment: Analysis and Criticism 
    • CMR1062 Introduction to Interpersonal and Group Communication or Social Uses of Media
    • POL 2354 Political Ethics
    • POL 3272 Making Environmental Public Policy
    • IS 3253H (honors course): Honoring Native Treaties: Human Rights and Civic Responsibilities
    • PSY 3542 Multicultural Psychology
    • SOC 3112, Sociology of the Environment
    • 3000-level Directed Study based on a real-world sustainability need/issue/topic; must include a community engagement attribute, paper, and public presentation and/or publication
    • Participation in MLEAD workshop: co-curricular requirement, offered by Simón Franco, coordinator, Student Activities, Conferences and Events

    Building Institutional Sustainability Networks (BISoN)

    The event programming arm of SLF helps faculty, staff, and students:

    • Learn about how the campus community has contributed to regional sustainability
    • Identify opportunities to work with partners on and off campus to better integrate sustainability into their teaching, scholarship, and other work
    • Develop relationships and collaborations with others interested in sustainability

    Sustainability Literacy Assessment - Morris (SLA-M)

    The SLF survey, or SLA-M, is open to all incoming first-year students and graduating seniors. SLA-M is designed to:

    • Examine students’ attitudes regarding sustainability
    • Determine whether and how students are learning about sustainability at Morris
    • Identify how much students know about problems relevant to regional, national, and global sustainability

    Sustainability Leadership Collection (Briggs Library)

    SLF is working with Briggs Library to improve access to materials relevant to sustainability leadership.

    Speakers: Sustainability and Wellness

    SLF has worked with campus units to host speakers who expand the campus conversation about sustainability leadership.

    Campus partners
    Past speakers
    • Ian Cheney (filmmaker)
    • Chris J. Cuomo (philosophy and women’s studies, University of Georgia)
    • Michael Dorsey (board of directors of the Sierra Club; advisor to Senator Barack Obama)
    • Lori Gruen (animal studies; feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; philosophy; science and technology studies; Wesleyan University)
    • Dale Jamieson (environmental studies and philosophy, New York University)
    • Gary Nabhan (activist; author; poet; Southwest borderlands food and water security, University of Arizona; MacArthur Fellow)
    • Ralph Nader (activist, candidate for the President of the United States of America)
    • Jay Odenbaugh (philosophy, Lewis and Clark College)
    • Rory Smead (philosophy, Northeastern University)
    • Pandora Thomas (co-founder and director of the Black Permaculture Project)
    • Kyle Powys Whyte (American Indian studies and philosophy, Michigan State University)

    The Sustainability Leaders for the Future program is sustained in part by a grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies.

    Sustainability Research

    The following are examples of student, faculty, and Green Prairie Alliance projects related to sustainability research.

    Student Research

    Morris students are deeply involved in sustainability research, both in assisting faculty projects and in their own investigations:

    • Dan Seidenkranz, under the direction of Associate Professor Ted Pappenfus, published an article on benzodithiophines, compounds that are promising in the emerging field of organic solar cells, in the peer-reviewed organic chemistry journal Heterocycles.
    • Will Dolezal, Joe Hartmann, Alicia Beattie, Aaron Goemann, and Bryce Blankenfeld researched and developed an on-campus composting system.
    • Heidi Eger, Laura Yourd, Alyssa Jacobsen, Naomi Wente, Kristian Nyberg, Laura Anne Hunt, and others have worked to improve the campus food system.
    • Zak Forde and Lucas Felts initiated a green Revolving Loan Fund.
    • Chris Droske performed extensive energy conservation work on campus and in the community.
    • Seth Elsen, Melinda Kawalek, and others worked on the Students Using Natural Energy (SUN-E) team, which helped implement a solar thermal system that heats the campus pool, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Jordan Wente has researched Danish energy models.

    Many students have done a variety of work in green chemistry, studied the impact of climate change on the prairie/forest transition, and more.

    Faculty Research

    Morris professors are conducting independent research in many areas that impact sustainability. These efforts can lead to better options for carbon-neutral energy and provide new information about the complex human relationship with our biosphere and the environments we call home.

    • Arne Kildegaard (economics/management) has worked with students to study various economic impacts of biomass, different renewable energy systems, and wind ownership structures.
    • Ted Pappenfus (chemistry) has worked with thin-films for solar cells.
    • Nancy Carpenter (chemistry) has performed algal research.
    • Timna Wyckoff (biochemistry) performed research on differences in bacterial resistance between conventional and organic dairy herds.
    • Donna Chollett (anthropology, emeritus) worked with a student to perform a community-food assessment for a region.
    • Cyrus Bina (economics/management) has researched and written widely on the geopolitics of oil.

    Green Prairie Alliance

    UMN Morris, along with the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) and the USDA Soil Conservation Research Center, forms an innovative research partnership called the Green Prairie Alliance.

    Ongoing research by the Green Prairie Alliance includes:

    • Biomass gasification district heating and cooling
    • Wind power and gasification economics
    • Renewable nitrogen fertilizer production
    • Biomass collection, handling, densification, and storage
    • Solar energy demonstrations
    • Sustainable crop residue harvesting
    • Use of gasification ash for fertilizer

    The Green Prairie Alliance aims to expand its research into the following areas:

    • Demonstration of a hydrogen fueling station
    • Smart” power distribution systems
    • Value–added biofuel products, such as ethanol from gasification syngas (synthetic gas)
    • Biofuel crops for Minnesota, like sweet sorghum, camelina, and calendula
    • Alternative polymers for photovoltaic solar collectors
    • Small-scale biomass gasification
    • Enzymes for cellulosic biofuel production


    Sustainability is an important part of our academic offerings. More than 75% of majors at UMN Morris include a sustainability-related course. We also offer the following opportunities.

    • There are two majors devoted to the environment, Environmental Science and Environmental Studies, which cover policy, economics, and cultural issues.
    • The UMN Morris Sustainability Leadership minor, a program that helps students from any major develop the skills they need to grow as sustainability leaders in their personal and professional lives.
    • We build climate and carbon literacy into many of our courses and co-curricular activities. Environmental policy issues are addressed in courses across varied disciplines. We also make ample use of renewable energy resources on campus.
    • Students perform internships with outreach organizations like the Center for Small Towns to assist with community-based sustainability initiatives.
    • The Green Energy tour plays a role in several courses, introducing students to scientific and policy issues.
    • Students take advantage of our renewable energy projects on campus, learning more about their operations and conducting independent research.