When the informal is the formal, the implicit is the explicit: Holistic sustainability education at Green Mountain College

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For abstract

Abstract:
Purpose
The purpose of this project is to provide an account of the student experience at a higher education institution known for its holistic approach to sustainability education.

Design/methodology/approach
A qualitative study was conducted at Green Mountain College (GMC), an environmental liberal arts school in Poultney, VT; 55 students participated in focus group interviews.

Findings
Students articulate that the most valuable gains that manifest at GMA are a variety of new capacities for science literacy, anthropological appreciation, the triple bottom line, a sense of place, systems, empathic decision-making and reasoning, interdisciplinary collaboration, and practical techniques supporting self-sufficiency. Prompting these emergent outcomes was a philosophy of practice at Green Mountain College, which included place-based techniques, empowerment, personalization, community ecology and charting polarity. Many students described their seeming metamorphosis as uncomfortable, and some felt isolated from the outside paradigm.

Research limitations/implications
A key implication of the study’s findings is that in a holistic setting, the line between the informal and formal curriculum are significantly blurred and what is implicitly communicated through university practices and values is what most transforms the students’ explicit understanding of sustainability.

Practical implications
Sustainability education is far more than technique, far more than what a lone instructor can manifest in students. While the persistence of individual faculty members is important, this evidence suggests that the fertile conditions for transformation may be more fruitful when faculty members work together with a collective sense of responsibility and a well-articulated paradigm.

Originality/value
The advantage of the present study is that it examines the perceived impact of a focus on sustainability across curricula and school by considering the educational environment as a whole. The experiences of students from many different majors who are involved in a holistic, sustainability-infused curriculum at a university with a history of successful post-graduation job placements in the sustainability field are explored here.

Keywords:
Student experience, Capacities, Holistic sustainability education, Qualitative inquiry, Sustainability integration

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