Department of Geography and the Environment

Drs. Jayme Walenta and Molly Polk Win 3 Teaching Awards

Fri, May 31, 2019
Drs. Jayme Walenta and Molly Polk Win 3 Teaching Awards
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This spring, Jayme Walenta and Molly Polk received three prestigious teaching awards that will enhance the B.A. in Sustainability Studies curriculum. The awards will support the development of a proposed new course, Introduction to Sustainability Studies, which will use innovative experiential learning techniques.

The Experiential Learning Course Developer Award is part of a 3-year pilot program, the Experiential Learning Initiative, which is expanding experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin. Walenta and Polk’s award was among the 26 stipends awarded out of a large and competitive application pool. The award will be used to develop a “Living Map” as an innovative assignment in Introduction to Sustainability Studies so that students may explore the relationships between the Texas Colorado River watershed’s diverse communities and the varying ways those communities are connected by water. The sustainability of the Colorado River watershed is challenged by varied stakeholders vying for greater access to water and further compounded by environmental stressors. Drs. Walenta and Polk envision the “Living Map” as an opportunity to make visible these natural and social forces though non-traditional cutting edge methods to illuminate the conditions under which water travels to reach our homes and nourish our bodies. The “Living Map” was inspired by counter-cartographer Lize Mogel, whose work was featured in the exhibition Exploring the Arctic Ocean at the Visual Arts Center in 2018.

Drs. Walenta and Polk also received the Sustainability Course Development Award from the Bridging Disciplines Program. In collaboration with the Office of Sustainability and President’s Sustainability Steering Committee and funded by The Mitchell Foundation, the Bridging Disciplines Program in Environment & Sustainability offered course development funds to create new undergraduate courses dedicated to investigating sustainability issues. The proposed course, Introduction to Sustainability Studies, will complement existing sustainability courses and fill a gap in the University’s current offerings through its unique content and innovative approach. Course learning goals broadly center on developing social capital within a cohort and enhancing student understandings of what Drs. Walenta and Polk see as the seven E’s of sustainability. These are the traditional three E’s (environment, equity, and economics) plus empathy, empowerment, education, and engagement. Achievement of the learning goals will occur through exposure to foundational sustainability scholarship, placed-based experiential learning opportunities, and team-based projects, including the Living Map.

The third award was a travel grant from the College of Liberal Arts for the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers in Washington D.C. Drs. Walenta and Polk organized a panel session with Dr. Melissa Hinten, the academic director of the sustainability program at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. The goal of the panel, Deep learning: Real-World Experiences in Sustainability Higher Education, was to advance sustainability pedagogy through a shared dialogue of best practices on experiential learning.

For additional information, please email Dr. Jayme Walenta jwalenta@utexas.edu and Dr. Molly Polk mollypolk@utexas.edu.

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  • Department of Geography and the Environment

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