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Westphal announces new minor | The Triangle

Westphal announces new minor

A new minor, sustainability in the built environment, is now being offered to Drexel University students interested in issues such as policy, behavior, networks and technology.

The minor was developed by the Department of Architecture and Interiors to provide a broad approach to sustainability from a variety of vantage points by studying the approach of multiple disciplines. It consists of four core sequential courses, set to provide a broad overview of sustainability through a systems-thinking approach.

“This course is ‘must-have’ information for anyone that will be engaging with issues of how we live and what we consume,” Diana Nicholas, director of the minor and assistant teaching professor of architecture and interiors at Drexel, said. “This could include students interested in everything from law or public policy to engineering to product design.”

The minor’s introductory course, taught by Nicholas, titled “Sustainability: History and Theory,” will have students examine the movement of sustainability and its basis from a variety of viewpoints.

“The fact that sustainability includes issues of culture, as well as examining poor relationships with nature, is an important concept for the students, and I think the re-enforcement of that throughout the minor is part of the strength of this for students,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas’ interest in sustainability stems from her design build and community-based approach to design, a process that involves hearing and acting on different perspectives.

In addition to a set number of required courses, a wide range of electives will also count toward the minor and are offered by various Drexel departments. Students can take a variety of courses to round out their minor, allowing for a customized schedule based on the student’s focus and the depth to which they plan to pursue sustainability.

As per the requirement of four core courses taken in sequence, students who complete the introductory course go on to a second course, currently taught by Max Zahniser, an adjunct professor of architecture. Zahniser’s course delves deeper into sustainable thinking, placing lots of emphasis on current approaches to sustainability, covering topics such as leadership in energy and environmental design.

Matthew Lutz, an architect and specialist in ecology and evolutionary biology, as well as an adjunct professor for the Goodwin College of Professional Studies, is currently teaching the third course. Lutz emphasizes future developments in sustainability and brings a forward-thinking and conceptual approach to the topic. He provides students with a broad survey of new and upcoming developments in science, technology and computation and explains how these apply to sustainability. Students are given the opportunity to work together in teams to synthesize these developments into speculative proposals relating to sustainability in Philadelphia.

The fourth course will run for the first time in spring 2013 and is set up to allow for engagement and focus on sustainability at a variety of scales, from the product level up to large-scale urban planning and policy issues.

“The principles espoused by this minor and by the movement are at the core of much happening in various disciplines today,” Nicholas said. “Teaching these precepts has broadened and strengthened my own approach to the topic. I think it is important to stress that it is not merely the province of designers.”

The minor was developed through the combined efforts of Nicholas; Zahniser; Nicole Koltick, assistant professor of architecture and interior design; and Debra Ruben, director of interior design programs and assistant professor of architecture and interior design.

“The minor originated from the committed efforts of [Ruben] initially,” Koltick wrote in an email. “She was teaching a very popular course that provided a broad overview to sustainable design. I joined the department in 2008 and began discussing with [Ruben] topics of sustainability and how we could expand those efforts.”

The goal was to offer a minor that was inclusive and not simply geared toward architecture and interiors students. The intended focus of the minor is to provide a broad basis for approaching sustainability from a variety of vantage points and through studying the approach of multiple disciplines.

“[Ruben, Zahniser] and I felt very strongly about the relevance and importance of this topic for students across the University, and we felt that we could develop a minor within a framework that capitalized on our interests and expertise but also was flexible enough to accommodate a variety of other viewpoints, disciplines and approaches,” Koltick wrote. “It is our hope that as the minor becomes more established, an increasing variety of students across the University will pursue the minor and contribute further to the diversity of viewpoints and approaches offered in the coursework.”

When asked why the minor had never existed previously, Koltick replied that a number of departments and disciplines engage with the issue of sustainability in the same way and could have created the minor elsewhere. However, she felt that she had a group of committed faculty, both full-time and adjunct, who had a broad range of experiences and approaches to this topic, helping the minor take its shape.

“The minor is a very exciting addition for Drexel students, and it is our hope that the minor will continue to grow and expand as we accommodate more students and an ever-broadening offering of courses related to the topic from different colleges across the campus,” Koltick wrote. “This minor is an excellent example of interdisciplinary approaches to problem seeking and idea generation, and we hope this will serve as a model for future interdisciplinary minors.”