Introducing Environmental Themes in Foundational Courses

While MIT offers a wealth of sustainability-focused courses, most students who choose to enroll in these classes are already passionate about environmental issues. To reach a broader audience, particularly those who would not seek out subjects with environmental themes on their own, ESI works to introduce sustainability concepts into high-enrollment foundational STEM classes at MIT. The primary focus of this effort is the General Institute Requirement (GIR) classes that are graduation requirements for all MIT undergraduate students.

By incorporating real-world environmental issues into required classes for all undergraduates, ESI enriches the foundational learning experience at MIT, links abstract concepts in science, math and engineering with tangible environmental problems, and motivates students to apply their education to solving global challenges.

The Project in Practice

Through a generous gift from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, ESI has partnered with instructors across MIT to identify environmental topics relevant to their classes, frame core STEM concepts in terms of their application to the environment, write problems dealing with the environment and sustainability, and create curricula exploring challenges in context. For example, students taking Differential Equations are given problems dealing with air quality monitoring and wildlife populations, while students taking Physics are given problems dealing with battery life and the greenhouse effect.

To date, ESI has introduced sustainability topics into GIR and introductory classes in Chemistry (3.091), Physics (8.01 and 8.02), Calculus and Differential Equations (18.02 and 18.03), Statistics (18.05), and Computer Science (6.006), as well as Biology, Math, Chemistry and Physics classes in MIT’s Experimental Study Group. Over 6,000 students have been exposed to environmental topics through these classes, spending over 50,000 hours on environment and sustainability problem sets.

Sustainability in Foundational Learning Grants

ESI offers small grants to MIT faculty teaching introductory and GIR classes to incorporate environment and sustainability topics. Our call for 2021 grants has closed. Please check back for future grant opportunities.