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Chico State

California State University Honored with Innovation Award for Faculty Learning Community Led by Chico State Professor

Kendall Hall with spring flowers in the foreground
Jason Halley / University Photographer

An early morning view of the Kendall Hall on Friday, March 27, 2020 in Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/University Photographer/CSU, Chico)

Chico State has long been recognized as a champion of sustainability—as an institution, among its students, faculty, staff, and alumni and for the greater good. This week, that leadership is being honored on behalf of the California State University system, as the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ (AASCU) 2023 Excellence and Innovation Award for Sustainability and Sustainable Development is bestowed on the CSU for an endeavor led by Chico State Professor Mark Stemen.

In spring 2022, Stemen facilitated the inaugural Faculty Learning Community (FLC) in Teaching Climate Change and Resilience. With participation from 62 faculty from six CSU campuses representing over 30 disciplines, the FLC ultimately redesigned 75 classes to offer greater engagement in climate change.

In addition to supporting the University’s Strategic Priority for Resilient and Sustainable Systems, the ultimate goal was to help faculty integrate climate change topics into their courses to better prepare students for emerging jobs and address a critical issue that is at the top of students’ minds.

“Students are asking questions about this topic in not just their science classes, but all of their classes,” Stemen said earlier this year. “They’re asking about it in their philosophy classes. They’re asking about it in their history classes. They’re asking about it in their political science classes.

“The questions are coming up, and for the most part, faculty were not trained to teach this. So, faculty needed to have a place to get up to speed on what is happening with climate change and then think about how they could integrate into whatever subject matter they were teaching.”

The AASCU recognized the FLC and resulting award at last month’s Sustainability Solutions Symposium in Washington, DC. Awardees will also be honored at AASCU’s 2023 Annual Conference in November in Chicago.

“We are honored to join the CSU in accepting recognition for the innovation and dedication exemplified by this Faculty Learning Community. Its success was made possible by the enthusiasm of our sibling campuses who embraced this endeavor and demonstrated the value of integrating the study of climate change into all disciplines,” said Interim Provost Terence Lau. “And, of course, it would not be possible without the dedicated and impassioned work of Dr. Stemen. His unwavering dedication to keeping a focus on climate change front and center upholds our University values and inspires our faculty and students to dare to make a difference for our planet.”

Mark Stemen smiles as he rides his bike on campus.
An advocate for and practitioner of climate resilience, Professor Mark Stemen rides his bike across campus.

CSU Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester offered her congratulations, deep appreciation and admiration to the committed and forward-focused faculty and staff systemwide who are associated with the CSU Faculty Learning Community in Teaching Climate Change and Resilience.

“The first formal faculty learning community in Cal State history, this innovative program across six CSU universities is a powerful example of our faculty’s commitment to address the existential threat presented by climate change, and it is aligned with the CSU’s holistic efforts to incorporate sustainability throughout our curricula and every aspect of our operations,” Koester said. “Congratulations again to these remarkable faculty and staff members from Cal Poly Humboldt, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Chico State, CSU Monterey Bay, CSU San Marcos, Stanislaus State and the CSU Chancellor’s Office. Their work to educate and inspire future generations of climate champions will advance environmental justice and create a greener and more sustainable world for all of us.”

The AASCU adds to the ongoing accolades Stemen, Chico State and the CSU have accrued for the FLC. In December 2022, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) gave the effort global attention by awarding Chico State the coveted Campus Sustainability Achievement Award. In February, the Chronicle of Higher Education profiled the program in its coverage of how universities are inspiring action, not fear, as they address climate change. Then, in March, Stemen was asked to speak about the FLC at the UN Conference on Higher Education and Security.

As the FLC continues to build on its success, the Innovative Teaching and Future Faculty Development in the Chancellor’s Office announced in May that it would provide support to help take the FLC to all 23 CSU campuses in spring 2024.

Five 90-minute sessions, held over Zoom, will be spread evenly across the semester, and faculty will have opportunities to break out by discipline for further discussion and curriculum development. With a focus on mental health and workforce development, participating faculty will plan changes for their own courses while becoming part of the systemwide network focused on issues of climate change and its connections across disciplines.

“The top takeaway from the last FLC was that climate anxiety in our students is real, and how we are teaching about climate change could be making it worse,” said Stemen. “The next FLC will directly address climate anxiety in our students and among faculty as well.”