School of International Letters and Cultures faculty weave sustainability principles into courses

November 12, 2021

Faculty members in Arizona State University's School of International Letters and Cultures have been working to integrate sustainability concepts into their language courses and overall curriculum, from vocabulary related to climate and the environment, to broader cultural themes and issues surrounding global futures.

This effort to ecologize the curriculum expands on a similar initiative from the school’s Italian section a year ago, which saw the program offer four classes focused on sustainability: “Natural Disasters: Environmental and Cultural Resilience,” “The Mediterranean Lifestyle in Italy,” “Italian Ecocinema” and “Sustainable Fashion.” A woman wearing a white puffy jacket places a bag of recycling in a large pink receptacle the size of a building. There is a sign in Russian on the flap she is holding open. A black hood covers her hair and she is facing away from the camera. Faculty members in the School of International Letters and Cultures have been working to integrate sustainability concepts into their language courses and overall curriculum. Download Full Image

Now, the goal is for every Italian course at every level — from introductory to upper division, whether taught in Italian or in English — to incorporate sustainability in some manner. The other programs housed within the school are being invited to embrace this challenge, as well.

The schoolwide effort is being spearheaded by Principal Lecturer Chiara Dal Martello, who taught the spring 2021 “Natural Disasters” course and was instrumental in encouraging her colleagues in the Italian program — and now across all of the school — to incorporate sustainability into their curriculum. The exact approach is left up to each individual program and professor.

“The Portuguese program opted for an integrated approach rather than just extra modules about the environment,” said Senior Lecturer Cézar Medeiros, the program’s coordinator. “The initiative calls for significant parts of our courses to be directed to sustainability, ranging from entire chapters dedicated to sustainability to specific assignments that aim at engaging students in discussions about contemporary environmental issues.”

Medeiros’ Elementary Portuguese II course in spring 2022 will include a vocabulary lesson about housing, human dwellings and sustainable buildings. Students are invited to discuss the ASU Student Pavilion in Tempe, which was designed as a Net Zero Energy building.

“This life-related experience provides the necessary context to engage the students in a deeper discussion about the environment while learning the language. The students’ own experiences can be compared to similar experiences in a Portuguese-speaking country,” Medeiros said.

Issues of sustainability transcend geographic borders and time periods, as well. Francoise Mirguet, associate professor of ancient Hebrew, incorporated texts that promote harmonious relationships between human beings and the non-human world into her Biblical Hebrew III course this semester. Examples of these primary sources include laws encouraging sustainable attitudes toward animals and narratives about the place of human beings in the natural world.

“Studying how ancient cultures reflected on sustainable living adds perspective to our current concerns. … We need to ask ourselves why ancient authors were preoccupied with establishing sustainable practices,” Mirguet said. “Biblical texts were also written over several centuries, in various contexts, by different authors. Concerns changed over time, as well as notions about the role and place of human beings in the world.”

The Italian program is also continuing to expand its list of courses that include sustainability concepts. Vocabulary lessons on topics like food and travel offer a solid foundation for exploring broader issues, said Italian Instructor Antonella Dell'Anna.

For example, students in Intermediate Italian I next semester will study comparatives and superlatives to learn and compare renewable energy initiatives focused on fueling public transportation. This lesson will continue by asking students to research and describe a sustainable vacation in Italy. These assignments allow students to expand their vocabulary in the language they are learning while also increasing their awareness of local issues and what it is like to actually live in the places they are studying.

Medeiros said it is important to him and the other Portuguese faculty members to depict a balanced view of sustainability-related topics. Students should feel empowered to develop better environmental solutions and help society achieve a sustainable global future.

“Creativity is a skill that the Portuguese program always encourages in our students,” he said. “One of the main goals of the Portuguese program is to arm students with useful skills so they can find the best solutions in whatever endeavor they pursue.”

Japanese Instructor Yukari Nakamura-Deacon echoed this sentiment. Students in her second-year Japanese II class this semester have communicated with peers at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan, about individual and societal practices regarding environmental issues like food waste, energy conservation and trash.

Nakamura-Deacon gave an example of the recycling process for a plastic bottle in Japan: Consumers rinse the bottle and separate the cap and bottle into separate containers designated for each type of plastic. Nonprofits sell the caps to companies that reuse them to make other products, and the nonprofits use the money they earn to further other public initiatives, such as vaccinating schoolchildren.

“If each one of us learns from this practice and starts implementing it in our daily lives, what difference could it make?” Nakamura-Deacon asked.

“If we could learn helpful practices from each other among countries and each one of us implements them in our daily lives, I personally believe that positive effects will be doubled, tripled and more,” she continued. “(The school) offers a perfect environment to nurture this idea as (the school) is a melting pot where diverse cultures can merge in order to achieve a big goal.”

The School of International Letters and Cultures plans to continue increasing sustainability content in its language courses and other classes across its more than 40 programs and more than 20 languages. Overall, these additions and updates to the school's curriculum ensure that students are given ample opportunities to engage with the pressing issues of the future through a wide array of pathways.

Kimberly Koerth

Content Writer, School of International Letters and Cultures

Transfer student's educational pursuits: From community college to ASU graduate school

Central Arizona College student thrives in her educational journey at ASU

November 12, 2021

Central Arizona College transfer student Hilda Olsen wanted to return to college because she knew she needed to obtain an education to better support herself and her children. She also wanted to set a good example by showing them that if you work hard, you can reach your goals.

As a recently divorced, single parent, Olsen chose to first go to Central Arizona College because it was a more affordable option for returning to school after a nearly 20-year absence, and she felt that completing her associate degree would better prepare her for pursuing her bachelor’s degree. ASU Transfer Student Hilda Olsen Transfer student Hilda Olsen completed her bachelor's degree with the W. P. Carey School of Business in summer 2019 and is now pursuing a master's degree with Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Download Full Image

Returning to school as a nontraditional, first-generation student, Olsen said that “there were so many things that I did not know were even available to me,” so she sought out new experiences to help her navigate this new environment. One of the ways she became involved was by joining Phi Theta Kappa, a two-year honors society, which helped her become more connected to the school and to other students and faculty on campus.

Olsen's advice to new transfer students: "Get involved on campus! This is probably the single most important thing you can do as a transfer student. Whether in a student organization, student leadership role, working in an on-campus job — all of these will help you to get connected to other students with a similar program of study or similar interests and hobbies. Having these personal connections and relationships will help you when you have questions or need additional help and resources. Never be shy to ask questions and ask for help; everyone on campus is here to be a resource to help you be successful."

Her experiences at Central Arizona College inspired her to look for ways to also get involved upon starting at ASU. The first key experience she had was living on campus in student family housing. This really helped her to build a connection with the Polytechnic campus community. She then looked for a student staff job and started working for University Housing, which led to her getting involved with the Polytechnic Residence Hall Association and to volunteering to plan activities in her community. As a W. P. Carey School of Business student, Olsen was also a part of the student organization Business Ambassadors.

These and many other university experiences led her on the path to pursing a career in higher education. Olsen is currently working on her master’s degree in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College higher education program, having completed her bachelor’s degree from the W. P. Carey School of Business in 2019.

Question: What inspired you to pursue higher education?

Answer: I returned to college after my divorce, as I knew that I needed to obtain an education to be better able to support myself and my children. I also wanted to set a good example for them that, exemplifying that if you work hard, you can reach your goals. 

Q: Why did you decide to attend a community college first?

A: I chose to attend community college because it was more affordable. I also did not take the ACT or SAT tests while I was in high school, and I did not think I would be accepted to a university before completing my associate degree. 

Q: Were you involved in any clubs or organizations at your community college? If so, please share which ones and how our participation impacted your community college experience.

A: I was involved in Phi Theta Kappa, a two-year honors society. Being involved in this program helped me to become more connected to the school and enabled me to build relationships with other students and faculty on campus. Through these relationships, I was able to learn about an on-campus student staff opportunity. These experiences greatly impacted my community college experience, and from these, I knew that I wanted to have similar experiences when I transferred to ASU. 

Q: Why, and when, did you choose your major?

A: Before my many years of being a stay-at-home mother, I worked in accounts receivable, so the office environment is what was familiar to me. I choose to do the associate in business degree because it was listed as a transferable degree, whereas the accounting degree was not. When transferring to ASU, although I had my associate degree, I still needed to take the SAT to be admitted into the W. P. Carey School of Business accountancy program. W. P. Carey has a great support system to help students to take this test, but honestly, I just didn't want to. So I chose the business (communications) program because I felt that it aligned with my previous volunteer experiences with training adult volunteers, and that was something that I really enjoyed.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I was geographically bound, being a resident in this area and a single mother of three kids. I wanted to have an in-person school experience and was not interested in looking at online school options.

Q: Did an ASU pathway program or MyPath2ASU help you?

A: When I was attending CAC, although I did not utilize the MyPath2ASU program, I did follow the AGEC-B and was focused on taking the classes that would fulfill earning my associate degree.

Q: What are your plans after you graduate with your bachelor's degree?

A: I completed my bachelor's degree in August of 2019, and one week later, I started my master's program. I plan to continue to work at ASU and to build my career here. 

Melanie Pshaenich

Coordinator senior, Office of the University Provost, Academic Alliances