About the Piedmont Project

In 2001, Peggy Barlett from Anthropology and Arri Eisen from Biology and the Science and Society Program launched a summer faculty development program to infuse sustainability and environmental issues across the curriculum. Called the Piedmont Project, it was modeled after the Ponderosa Project at Northern Arizona University, and NAU leaders Geoff Chase and Paul Rowland came to Emory to facilitate the opening workshop. Subsequently led by rotating teams of Emory faculty facilitators, it later expanded to include a program for graduate students.

The Piedmont Project has become a national model for faculty development and curricular innovation around sustainability. Peggy Barlett and Geoff Chase offer workshops to help faculty leaders from other colleges and universities adapt the Piedmont Project for their own schools (see http://www.aashe.org/events/workshops/curriculum). The project is an important part of Emory's academic commitment to transforming culture toward sustainability.

Structure of the Piedmont Project for Faculty

Each summer, 20 faculty applicants from all units and departments of the University are accepted for a four-part program that offers multi-disciplinary brainstorming around sustainability issues, experiential learning about place, and pedagogical exercises designed to help faculty develop new courses or new course modules for existing courses. Participants commit to:
-- Attend a two-day workshop usually held a few days after graduation.
-- Develop a syllabus for a new course or a course module that incorporates sustainability or environmental issues appropriate to their field.
-- Participate in a fieldtrip and discussion session at the end of the summer to share their experiences.
-- Attend a dinner meeting in March to report on experiences and intellectual process.

Funding has been provided internally by teaching innovation programs, the Program in Science and Society, the deans of each of the schools of the University, Office of the Provost, and the Centers for Teaching and Curriculum and Faculty Development and Excellence. Faculty are paid a modest stipend when they turn in their syllabi at the end of the summer.

Participation and Pedagogical Creativity

Over 184 faculty have participated in the nine years of the program, and thousands of students a year are affected by new or renovated courses taught by these faculty. Participants come from all units of the University: law, business, theology, nursing, medicine, public health, Oxford College, and Emory College of Arts and Sciences. In addition, deans from Oxford College, the Medical School, and Theology, a vice provost for academic affairs, and four librarians have participated. Several times, scholars from other universities have also joined the group.

Each Piedmont project cohort represents as many different departments, programs and schools as possible. Past participants include Anthropology, Art History, Biology, Chemistry, Classics, Economics, Emergency Medicine, English, Environmental Studies, French and Italian, German, History, Institute for Liberal Arts, Mathematics, Middle Eastern Studies, Music, Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, Philosophy, Physical Education and Dance, Pharmacology, Physics, Political Science, Psychology, Religion, Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures, Sociology, Spanish and Portuguese, Theater, Visual Arts, and Women's Studies. The cross-fertilization of diverse areas of expertise strengthens creativity in teaching strategies. The workshop and fieldtrip also build campus community, a strongly-expressed satisfaction with the program.

Creative pedagogical outcomes include:
-- A collaboration between a Russian professor and a theater professor in which students read Chekhov outdoors under the trees.
-- A team-taught, writing-intensive course, "Water in Science, Philosophy, and Literature."
-- Chinese language instruction that assigns students to create pamphlets in Chinese on Emory's sustainability efforts.
-- A course in pharmacology on the environmental hazards of drug research and drug delivery systems.
-- A renovated human rights course in Political Science that includes the environmental and social justice aspects of sustainable development.

Learning for Piedmont Project participants comes in several forms. Faculty immerse themselves in basic knowledge through on-line readings prior to the workshop and formal presentations during the workshop. Topics covered in the past include the local Piedmont forest ecosystem, Atlanta's environmental justice and equity issues, public health consequences of sprawl, and current campus sustainability efforts. Outdoor woods walks deepen ecological knowledge, and fieldtrips expand the educational experience into unfamiliar parts of Atlanta. Concrete examples from Atlanta and the surrounding region help to strengthen a sense of place and support imaginative connections for courses. Much learning also occurs in small and large group discussions.

Structure of the Piedmont Project for Graduate Students

In 2004, the Piedmont Project was expanded to include a one-day workshop for graduate students that highlights ways in which sustainability can integrate with disciplinary teaching opportunities. Ten to twenty students are accepted each summer and are paid a small stipend. In addition to developing a syllabus, graduate student participants also design an outreach activity within their own department or unit, to share some of what they have learned with fellow students and faculty. Over 130 students have now participated in this fellowship.

In addition, an introduction to sustainability and an overview of Emory's commitments to sustainability education are provided during the Graduate School's pedagogy course at the beginning of the second year.

Impact on Teaching and Research

A 2008 survey of 1100 faculty in all units except Medicine revealed that 34 out of 43 Emory departments had at least one course related to sustainability (79%).

A 2006 study of the first five years of the Piedmont Project found that most new or renovated courses were still being taught, and 40 percent of faculty reported changing not one course, but two, three, or four. Intellectual excitement from a modest change in one course often led to much larger innovations. In teaching methods, faculty reported not only adding new readings, but adding new labs, homework, or research projects (44%), developing a new unit or module (64%), or reorienting the course with a new paradigm (34%). The vast majority reported that their teaching methods changed to add more experiential learning, new outdoors exercises, or new ways of engaging students. Though it is not the formal goal of the workshop, the Piedmont Project approach stimulates pedagogical exploration and change.

Faculty development extends as well to scholarly research and personal life. Over 60 percent of those surveyed reported that their growing awareness of sustainability and environmental issues led to new research directions, new grant proposals, and new publications. Some past participants were motivated to adopt new family and departmental practices in conserving energy and water and making other lifestyle changes. Deeper relationships with the city and new forms of civic action were also reported. Such outcomes support Emory's goal to become a more sustainable university and help build a dynamic learning community among faculty.