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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Second Annual Themed Semester to Explore Sustainability

By David Simpson

When we hear the term "sustainable practices," we tend to think of conserving precious resources - water, coastline, trees, wildlife - for generations to come. Sustainability is that and more.

Old Dominion University will delve deep into the topic this fall as part of the school's second annual Themed Semester. Through revamped courses and related events, instructors and students will approach sustainability from multiple angles.

"Sustainability isn't only about preserving our environment but could also be about preserving our relationships with each other," said Marissa Jimenez, executive director of the Office of Academic Success Initiatives and Support. "Social sustainability, for example, refers to practices that are inclusive and help build and maintain resilient communities where all have a voice. And we'll need to work collaboratively to remain resilient locally and globally."

Each fall, Themed Semester offers an array of courses clustered around a topic that resonates with the human experience. ODU launched the multidisciplinary initiative in 2021, when the theme was Arts and Social Justice.

For 2022, the Office of Academic Affairs awarded $1,000 each to 17 faculty members, who have redesigned their courses to include projects or events related to sustainability, Jimenez said. You can read details of each project at the Themed Semester website.

This fall's themed courses include (instructors' names in parentheses):

  • ARTS 495: Topics. (Natalia Pilato)
  • GEOG 420/520: Marine Geography: GIS for a Blue Planet (Tom Allen)
  • IDT 749/849: Designing Effectively for Sustainability (John Baaki, Brett Cook-Snell)
  • MGMT 427: Business & Society (Jay O'Toole)
  • NURS 472/3: Nursing in the Healthcare System, and HLTH 101: Introduction to Health Professions (Beth Tremblay, Janice Hawkins, Leanne White)
  • PHIL 250: World Religions (Nicole Willock)
  • PRTS 475: Sustainable Tourism Management (Lindsay Usher)
  • SEPS 495: Sustainability and the Fashion Industry (Sharon Davis, Joy Kelly, Mike Conner, Michael Kosloski, Dee Hamlet, Sharon Joyner)
  • WMST 303/ENGL 395: Queer Studies (Cathleen Rhodes)

Here's a brief look at the projects of three faculty members:

In connection with PHIL 250 (World Religions), Willock will screen the 2019 film "Ganden: A Joyful Land" at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14 at the University Theatre. The movie's director and producer, Ngawang Choephel, will take the stage afterward for a Q&A session. Doors open at 7, and the wider community is welcome.

"Ganden" documents the difficult journey of the Tibetan Buddhist monks of Ganden Monastery. After years of worsening oppression by the Chinese government and military, they fled to India in 1959. Soon, their centuries-old monastery was destroyed. Viewers will learn how the monks have sustained their community in a new land.

"The film imagines what it would be like if you had to leave your home tomorrow and move to a foreign country," Willock said. "What would you do?"

Her students will use the film for a thought paper on religious diversity and how religious identity helps bond communities in shared history and practices.

In MGMT 427 (Business & Society), O'Toole will invite his students to explore and discuss competing perspectives on such questions as the social and environmental costs of a business system based on shareholder primacy. This writing-intensive course requires students to complete assignments every week and submit a well-researched opinion piece to The Virginian-Pilot's op-ed page.

"Through the Business & Society course, I hope my students will not only learn about the significant role businesses play in creating a sustainable future but also that, as our future leaders, they are personally responsible for shaping that future," O'Toole said.

In GEOG 420/520 (Marine Geography: GIS for a Blue Planet), Allen will assign a class project on coastal sustainability. In the process he and his students and partners will revive ODU's 2019 Blue Line Project.

"Students of marine geography will be preparing sea level rise awareness maps for neighborhoods around Hampton Roads," Allen said. "Using the best scientifically available sea level projections and digital geographic (GIS) data, they will map out the current and future high-tide lines in 20, 40 and 60 years.

"Then, during the annual 'king tide' flooding that occurs in late October this year, the community and other organizations will be invited to see these areas in person to facilitate a vision of the future ... when flooding can occur even without the effect of a king tide, owing to sea level rise."

More Themed Semester events will be posted later; check University Announcements or the Themed Semester website for up-to-date information.

Across campus and in the community, expect to hear plenty of talk about sustainability this fall. Many of those conversations are likely to emerge from the 45th annual ODU Literary Festival, which is scheduled for Oct. 2-6. This year's theme is Sustaining Community. Details will be announced soon.

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