Celebrating Faculty Excellence in Community-Engaged Sustainability Teaching: Two Co-Winners and Four Honorable Mentions for 2020

May 4, 2020

SLS is thrilled to celebrate two outstanding faculty partners this year—Teresa Snow and Emily Weigel, both in the School of Biological Sciences (College of Science)--as co-winners of the 2020 SLS Award for Excellence in Community-Engaged Sustainability Teaching! The pool of applicants this year was broad and highly impressive, with 18 instructors representing all six colleges submitting student and community partner testimony about their innovative teaching. As a result, in addition to a tie for the award, SLS also decided to recognize four applicants with Honorable Mention: Richard Dagenhart (College of Design, School of Architecture), Jennifer Leavey (College of Sciences, School of Biological Sciences), Dori Pap (Scheller College of Business, Institute of Entrepreneurship and Social Impact), and Kari Watkins (College of Engineering, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering).

Both Dr. Weigel’s and Dr. Snow’s application packets reflect the breadth and depth of their innovative approaches to sustainability concepts and the significant impact of their community partnerships on student learning. Teresa Snow’s course Scientific Foundations of Health is setting a high bar for community engagement at the Institute, while also demonstrating how meaningful community engagement is possible even in classes with more than 200 students. Student Kimia Kavanroodi writes how Dr. Snow’s approach “shift[s] the foundation of how we learn by enabling us to use our talents and skillsets to…better our society.” Kimia’s student team was energized by their interaction with the Atlanta Heart Healthy Coalition. Another student team was inspired to establish a chapter of Active Minds at Georgia Tech, a national association that seeks to reduce stigma associated with mental illness. The work of this new student organization will have an ongoing impact on the culture of wellbeing at the Institute. Dr. Snow’s students clearly view her, in student Yeojin Chang’s words, as “a wonderful mentor who initiates change to create a better community, starting in her classroom.” Course deliverables in Scientific Foundations of Health--including a new web site, enhanced greenspace and a greenhouse design, lunch ‘n’ learns, videos, and new campus organizations—demonstrate an effective balance between developing the analytical and team-building skills of students and meeting--even exceeding—the aims articulated by the community partner.

Similarly, students in Emily Weigel’s courses that include Introductory Biology, Organismal Biology, and Ecology Lab write with enthusiasm about the broad resonance of her community-engaged teaching. As student Luke Dorian describes: “Through Project Safe Flight, in partnership with the Georgia Audubon Society, Dr. Weigel showed us how community engagement at Georgia Tech can be utilized to create meaningful, statistically significant change for our local wildlife… [teaching students] how our modern infrastructure and way of life affects the ecological systems of our local area and beyond...” Partner Adam Betuel with the Atlanta Audubon Society points out that the data collected by Dr. Weigel’s students have “greatly expanded our bird collision efforts. We have learned about what specific building characteristics endanger our birds, what species are visiting our urban greenspaces, and steps that can be taken to make a building bird-safe.” Dr. Weigel also uses community engagement to build cross-disciplinary learning opportunities for her students. For example, in the course Climate Change in Urban Spaces, student Savannah Berry notes that exposure to community leaders who share their experiences enables students to “get a holistic view of what local climate change is, why it happens, and how we can work to solve this problem.”

Such student and community partner reflections speak to the many ways in which rich, community-engaged instruction in Emily Weigel’s and Teresa Snow’s courses enhance student learning while also supporting sustainability-minded professional practice and commitment to community-driven change in the future, wherever the paths of their students may lead. Their courses clearly have had a profound and lasting impact on many Georgia Tech students, and we are thrilled to be able to recognize their contributions to community-engaged sustainability teaching at Georgia Tech through this award.

In addition to recognizing the two winners, for the first time this year SLS is recognizing four additional applicants with Honorable Mention. Richard Dagenhart has nurtured a more than 20-year relationship with the Georgia Conservancy and a diverse range of Georgia Communities that facilitates community-engaged, sustainable urban design while also enriching the education of more than 300 students. Jennifer Leavey’s relationships with Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSKYWLA), Zoo Atlanta, and many urban agriculture sites in Atlanta foster research and teaching that extend and enhance the mission of these organizations while also enabling students to understand the relevance of their studies to real-world challenges in neighboring communities. Dori Pap has nurtured a long-term relationship with Georgia Works (GW) that integrates many SLS partnership and teaching tools to support student learning and skill-building in asset-based community development (ABCD). And the community-engaged approach in Kari Watkins’ Capstone Design, Multimodal Transportation, and Sustainable Transport Abroad courses deepens student understanding of what makes a sustainable community, while also building collaborative partnerships with transportation professionals.

The Georgia Tech community is so lucky to have the caliber of teaching described in the application materials of all these innovative and reflective instructors. Their commitment advances the SLS mission to equip Georgia Tech students to learn and serve around the theme “creating sustainable communities” through engagement with content and context.

Award Recipients - Dr. Emily Weigel and Dr. Teresa Snow