Thursday, July 23, 2009

Yang's Reponse

Well, I realize that the Environment and Sustainability effort isn't focused on energy. It just seems like the only aspect that anyone is working on in Course 6. The goal of power electronics (what Leeb and Perrault work on) is to convert energy efficiently so I think it's relevant by definition, but I also know that they're personally interested in sustainability.

I was thinking they could help adapt or create an undergrduate course on energy harvesting technologies. Are you saying that such a class would be more appropriate for the Energy Minor and it would be preferable for the Sustainability Minor not to overlap? Or perhaps such a class would not have enough focus on strategies for sustainability?

My idea for the sustainability minor was to offer some very technical classes that would equip students with skills relevant to making every industry sustainable instead of inadvertently equipping students with technical expertise that is most relevant to missile defense or ecryption for defense or robotics for defense. In that sense, I am not sure that any new course 6 classes could really be "about" sustainability since classes are generally not "about" any application.

However, I think that to get students engaged in sustainability in their careers it is really important to offer relevant classes in their own major. In my mind, the goal is so that people become engaged in sustainability as a part of their careers, and students often don't consider classes taken outside their major to be important to their careers. It may be nice to change that, but I think that would be a more fundamental problem. It's not really all the students' fault, though. Employers typically are only interested in what technical classes you took so there isn't really incentive to take classes outside your major. (So with this in mind, for classes that are offered outside the major, it's really important to make sure they're classified as HASS classes.) Besides the classes, students get a lot of technical expertise doing UROPs, but again, put a higher value on more technical UROPs, especially if they can be listed as an author on a paper or work in a regular basis with a professor, and then maybe they can get you into grad school...etc. Professors who teach classes, especially the core header classes get the most exposure and probably UROP students, so it could be a good idea to encourage faculty working on sustainability projects to teach more header classes. I have no idea how those decisions are made within the departments, though.

Joe Paradiso's lab hires a lot of UROPs that sometimes end up doing grad school with him. Rich Fletcher does, too. They're at the Media Lab, though, and aren't typically involved with undergraduate curriculum.

So I'd say it's really important to get more funding for professors who are interested in sustainability related projects, or perhaps just help them publicize what they do. I'm hoping that the Sustainability Minor as well as the Summit will influence the priorities of labs at MIT and perhaps get more sustainability related faculty hired as well.

Lastly, it's a good idea to offer less technical classes or seminars on sustainability over IAP. During that time, most other of their required courses are not offered and students feel they have time to "branch out."

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