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Georgia Tech wins national award for teaching students to address sustainability, social justice

By David Pendered

Georgia Tech’s Serve-Learn-Sustain program received a first place award Thursday from the national campus sustainability association, AASHE, for its approach to teaching students methods to solve problems involving environmental sustainability and social justice.

Georgia Tech summer interns Alyson Laura and Patrick Daugherty worked through the Serve-Learn-Sustain program on a community emergency response project for an historically Black community in Savannah. Credit: SLS

Two other schools in Georgia were award finalists – Agnes Scott College and Georgia Southern University. In addition, a professor and assistant program director at Tech served on a team that made it to the finals, with colleagues from a university in Scotland.

These awards aren’t about commending a program that has reduced greenhouse gas emissions or addresses another issue of sustainability or racial justice.

Instead, these awards celebrate academic programs that aim to inspire the rising generation to create, recognize and embrace new methods for approaching humankind’s thorny challenges.

At Tech, an example of the award-winning concept is the fairly new minor degree in sustainable cities, according to Ruthie Yow, who serves on the SLS team and accepted the award on behalf of Tech. Yow said the minor is one of Tech’s more eclectic offerings, and a catalogue describes the degree as one that:

SLS Waders and Nets

Students in Tech’s Serve-Learn-Sustain program search for wildlife in Proctor Creek as part of the effort to determine the species who call the place home. File/Credit: Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain

  • “[E]mphasizes sustainability, community engagement, and social justice. It provides students with a deep learning experience that integrates classroom learning and real-world, community-based project experience in creating sustainable communities, with a focus on the built urban environment.”

In addition, Yow wrote a guest column for SaportaReport that appeared Aug. 23 and described how SLS’ summer internship program adapted to the coronavirus pandemic and renewed focus on social justice. Yow observed:

  • “In partnership with the Center for Civic Innovation, SLS provided a more intensive seminar experience by linking the interns’ work with concepts of racial and health equity, and their connection to the development of sustainable communities.”

The awards on Thursday were presented by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. AASHE may best be known for its annual STARS program, Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, a self-reported set of information on sustainability goals.

These are highlights of the winners and finalists:

yow, carrie's closet

A Georgia Tech intern wrote a bill of rights for foster children in Georgia, and established a social media campaign to build support, while helping at Carrie’s Closet, which provides clothing to youngsters in distress or in the social services system. File/Credit: SLS


yow, savannah map

To help with emergency preparedness in a time of rising sea level, two Georgia Tech interns helped establish a community profile and emergency response plan for Hudson Hill, an historically Black community in Savannah. File/Credit: sealevelsensors.org

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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