The Tech Forward Initiative on Sustainability and Resilience (ISR) has recently announced the Spring 2023 awardees for Curriculum Innovation. The awards, ranging from $5,000 to $7,000, will fund three diverse projects that align with Michigan Tech’s mission to bring long-lasting changes in educational offerings. One of the three projects awarded was SPEAK Resilience (Sustainability, Psychology, Ecology, Arts, Kultur), with principal investigators Lisa Gordillo (VPA), Tara Bal (CFRES), and Sam Smith (CLS).
SPEAK Resilience will be an interdisciplinary sustainability program for Michigan Tech students to study in Björkö-Arholma, Sweden. The program will include a collection of four courses: one each in psychology, ecology, and the arts; and one interdisciplinary course team-taught by the faculty co-PIs. The co-PIs will develop a program that draws on each of their specialties to create immersive, interdisciplinary curricula.
The theme of interdependence between humans and the natural world will be incorporated into each course, viewed through various lenses to tackle sustainability, resilience, and community engagement. This approach will provide a comprehensive and interdisciplinary field experience.
Students will learn about natural resource management and sustainable ways to interact with local ecosystems; ways that cognitive processing may predispose unsustainable behaviors and how to change them; and ways that art and educational interventions can enhance community engagement with environmental stewardship. The program’s themes will be enriched by the unique perspectives offered by Swedish culture, which is of significant importance to the overall experience.
Research behind the Curriculum
Co-PI Lisa Gordillo is the artist-in-residence for Michigan Tech’s College of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, and was an artist-in-residence in Björkö-Arholma, Sweden in 2022. During that time, she established partnerships with Swedish schools, communities, and arts organizations such as Väddö Folkhögskola and Björkö Kunstnod. These partners will collaborate to develop community projects related to sustainability during the program.
Gordillo’s research uses art to connect people and landscape, and to create community engagement opportunities. Co-PI Tara Bal‘s research on forest health, which involves investigating the effects of human activity on forest landscapes, and aligns with the program’s theme of interdependence between humans and the natural world. Co-PI Samantha Smith is examining the impact of environmental factors on attention and cognitive processing, as well as how these factors influence human behavior.
SPEAK Resilience is part of Gordillo’s larger community-arts project, Sister Forests, which connects the forests of Björkö-Arholma Sweden with those of the Keweenaw. The innovative program SPEAK Resilience will provide students with invaluable experiences to understand and address sustainability issues, resilience, and community engagement through different perspectives.