Episode 3: Krista Hiser, University of Hawaii System - Sustainability Designation for College Courses - Transcript

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Dave Karlsgodt 0:04

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode we will talk with leading campus professionals, thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the challenges and opportunities facing higher ed corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you are ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host, Dave Karlsgodt. I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy, carbon and business planning firm. Today's guest is Dr. Krista Hiser. Krista is the interim sustainability curriculum coordinator for the 10 campuses of the University of Hawaii system. In this role, her work is to benchmark existing sustainability focused courses and to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue and professional development opportunities for faculty as they update and transform their courses. She's a thought leader and helping to rethink how we teach sustainability in our higher ed institutions. She is also a professor of composition and rhetoric at Kapi'olani Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaii system. I recorded a fascinating conversation with Krista that weaved through a myriad of topic areas, I have to admit, we got a bit carried away and far exceeded my own arbitrary time limit for a respectable podcast episode. I decided that rather than edit out entire sections of our discussion, I've split this episode into a two part series. Part One mainly focuses on Krista's work to create the S designation or sustainability designation for college courses in the University of Hawaii system. It also explores more generally how to effectively teach students, faculty and professionals about sustainability. Part Two dives a bit deeper taking on the role of language, how we can teach sustainable concepts without using green rhetoric. And we even get to learn a new word recently created in the Hawaiian language. I hope you enjoy this two part series with Dr. Krista Hiser. Krista, welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast.

Krista Hiser 2:07

Thank you, Aloha, so happy to be with you.

Dave Karlsgodt 2:09

So Krista, if I have this right, you are first a teacher as a professor of composition and rhetoric. But somewhere along the way you decided teaching wasn't quite enough of a challenge for you. Because now you're teaching the teachers how to teach. Perhaps you can start us off with a little background on how you ended up in that position.

Krista Hiser 2:26

So I've taught English composition and rhetoric since about 2000. And my entry into sustainability was two things happened to me, around 2000 2001. One was a book by Derek Owens called composition and sustainability. And what that book did was look at the fact that every student in the United States takes a course, like English 100, and therefore, it's an intersection point where students can look at some of the environmental issues that they might not otherwise cross paths with, in their general education curriculum. So I was reading that book and thinking about that in my teaching. And then I had this moment, I was just jogging in my neighborhood, and I crossed over a little stream. And there was something about the wind and the trees and the stream running underneath me. And I just had this moment, this, this world moment, where I kind of understood the complexity and immensity of some of these environmental issues. And that, you know, it was a real thing that I was going to deal with my kids were going to deal with, and that we needed to be teaching with. And this moment is called an ethical transformative moment in the the literature on transformative learning, Jack Meza row. And you know, people can change just like that. You just have this like, aha moment, you realize something, you see something clearly, and it changes your direction. And so this moment, this ethical moment of transformation, changed my direction, in my work, and in my teaching, and I literally went home and started writing different lesson plans and started doing different research and, you know, directing my work in a different way. What's interesting about this is that when you talk to business leaders, higher education leaders, teachers, you talk to people about sustainability and environmental awareness, and they will describe that moment, it's some describe like an awakening, some people have an illness, or something that changes their mindset. And it is, it's something that happens to people, so happened to me, and probably to you, that's probably how you got into the work you're doing, as well. And that's the moment ever since that's the moment that I've been wanting to create for students, because if they can have that type of aha moment in their learning, then it will change their direction.

Dave Karlsgodt 5:32

Krista, thanks for that introduction. And I think you're right. I think most of us have a moment like that in our own career. But it sounds like you've moved beyond just teaching sustainability to your own students and have now gone on to integrate these concepts into other courses in your institution. Tell us more about this as designation or sustainability designation?

Krista Hiser 5:51

Yeah, well, let me tell you where the S designation project came from. So in my own class, I was teaching the developmental composition at the time course called English 22. And the first thing I did was make my students start a campus recycling program. So they had to form a little company. And we made bins that were recycled big barrels that had bleach in them. And we painted them, we were alohar, and flowers, and started campus recycling programs. So one, let's just recall that in 2001, we did not have a campus recycling program. And now look at what's going on, you know, all the campuses that you visit, so 2001, there was no recycling programs. So my students put these bins out. And then they had to get the recyclables to a big dumpster, the special dumpster that the city and county with them come and pick up. And this was the beginning of Hawaii's statewide recycling center program. So my students, they didn't like doing this, they did not like collecting recycles, hauling them across campus dirty, it was sweaty, it was irritating. And they really did not want to be doing this type of work. But what was interesting about it is that it put them in direct, direct contact with behavior and behavior change, you know, with their own behavior, and then watching someone, you know, throw their lunch into the recycling container, or throw their soda bottle into the garbage can, you know, just watching that it really brought up a lot of interesting critical thinking issues, and, you know, wicked problems. And that's what really got me into it. Because we want to teach critical thinking. If you spend any time thinking about recycling, you're going to run into a wicked problem, and you're going to start engaging in critical thinking. So then I took students to the landfill, we have a waste to waste to energy facility. And, you know, recycling is probably a whole nother podcast topic that we could do. But it started to just unpack this huge issue of, of waste and materials and consumption, and the wicked problems. And so I really got into it that way. So really engaging with those issues, started taking other classes to the landfill and the H power facility. And then started talking with other teachers about the waste issue about some of our food security issues in Hawaii, and started saying, Well, you know, are you teaching this? How does this? What does this look like in your discipline? So it started out as informal conversations. And then in 2008, we had the first sort of system wide meeting. So there were, you know, a few writing teachers like me, some computer teachers, some scientists, natural resource people, of course. And you know, we were just started talking, what is sustainability? How does it change the way we teach? And what do we have in common in terms of how we're trying to teach this? And how can students find the sections? So that's really what the S designation project then is about is like, okay, teachers are teaching this. But if a student has an interest in sustainability, how can they find these classes in the curriculum, right, because the university is organized in this, like 19th century, disciplinary structure, geography, biology, botany, you know, humanities, and sustainability is, is embedded everywhere in the curriculum. And then students show up and say they, they say, Oh, I'm interested in sustainability. And, and they don't know where to find it, because they're coming from a different framework than, than that the Academy is, is organized. So then the next thing that happened was the Association for the Advancement of sustainability in higher education. So a group called AASHE was formed around that time, and they came out with a rating system called STARS. And I thought for sure University of Hawaii system would want to do the stars rating system. And a lot of stars, I'm sure you have interacted with stars in your work. A lot of STARS' work is about, you know, often operations side of things, how energy efficient are your buildings, water, use that kind of thing. And then this little piece of it is about curriculum. How are you teaching sustainability, climate change? How do these issues come into your classroom? Not just in what you're teaching, but in how you're teaching that? And how do we even know, really what's happening in the classroom. So I thought we would become a star school. And so I started studying the stars criteria. I kind of combine those with our conversation. And we said, you know, this is what a sustainability course looks like. And that was the origin of the project.

Dave Karlsgodt 11:44

Yeah, fascinating. You kind of took it from a needed opportunity to have my students have critical thinking. So I might as well throw them into sustainability, because it's really hard, rather than although I guess it did have a Genesis in your own passion. That's interesting. selfishly, I want to ask, you know, I'm sure there are people that are interested in how you got the S designation into your curriculum and the mechanics of that. But since I am on most of the work I do is on the operational side of the house of four universities, I guess I'm a little more interested in thinking about how do you go about teaching these concepts? Because I think that's something I might be able to glean some tricks from, in my work, I end up in a position of educating people on the operational side of the business. I run into roadblocks all the time, like, how do you talk about this? How do you bring up these topics without people's eyes glazing over or just hitting barriers left and right, because it is hard?

Krista Hiser 12:41

Right. Well, one of the first things I did was talk with students, I did a dissertation study, called students as stakeholders in the curriculum. And I did focus groups with students. And I asked them, you know, it's funny how you said that, because because I, if I asked students, Oh, are you interested in sustainability? Sometimes they would be like, what, what are you talking about? But if I can, if you come around sort of through a different direction, and start asking them about climate change, and invasive species and biodiversity and some of these other other issues, then they are very become very engaged in those things. So I was asking them, are your teachers teaching this? And how are they teaching it? And at first, they would say, you know, oh, no, it's not, we don't learn that in class. But then they would say, oh, except for, you know, when the teacher starts talking about water bottles, and water rights, and dishonor, you know, trying to buy water rights and sell water and things like that. And it turns out that faculty who are engaged will, you know, they'll teach they're values, they'll teach these issues, because they're thinking about them. And they're really smart people. So the sustainability curriculum would be coming in as a sidebar. And literally, that was the same in textbooks, right textbooks would have around that time, you know, a chapter on sustainability or a sidebar about, you know, plastic and the environment, something like that. And what this s designation does is take sustainability out of the sidebar, and really transform the curriculum. So having that conversation with students was really important. And then continuing that conversation with faculty. So faculty with talk about what's called cognitive dissonance. This is where operations comes in for you, it was really important to continue talking to faculty about teaching sustained ability, because what they would say is things like if they're in the classroom, and they teach about the importance of, you know, local food and keeping, keeping the local economy, things like that. And then if the students go across the Great Lawn to the cafeteria, and they find bananas from Mexico, in the cafeteria, or they look at why the healthy food is so much more expensive than, you know, the less healthy food issues like that. The teachers were telling me that frustrated them, and that the students, you know, we get one thing in the classroom, and then one thing in the cafeteria, just as an example. And that that found that very interesting. That's actually a psychological phenomena, called cognitive dissonance. cognitive dissonance is when a person holds two contradictory ideas at one time, and it's very uncomfortable. We do it all the time. But this application of the concept is a little different, because we're looking at a campus ecosystem. And the classroom is one part of the ecosystem. And the facilities are another part of it. And they have to resonate with each other. Yeah, so if the students are learning one thing in the classroom, and they don't see it, when they step out into a different part of their college experience, then it creates this cognitive dissonance, and it's uncomfortable, and it almost negates what they just learned. know,

Dave Karlsgodt 16:39

it's interesting, I have run into a lot of frustration in my own work, because I will, will interact with sustainability departments A lot of times, and part of their role is to help the operational side of the house, you know, become, you know, quote, unquote, greener. But a lot of their work has to do more with engaging students. And the way that you see that play out again, and again, and again, is, at least you know, sort of in the in the shallow sense is, you know, what do I do about water bottles on campus? Or what do I do about, you know, we should have a garden on on our campus, not really realizing that the scale of that compared to what the cafeteria serving is, is dwarfed. And, for me, I guess I run into a lot of cognitive dissonance when I, when I hear things like that, because I just it frustrates me because I don't, I guess I kind of feel it doesn't really matter, when the campus energy system is so much larger, so much of a bigger problem.

Krista Hiser 17:30

Right? Right. It might be interesting, if we talked instead about cognitive dissonance, what if we looked at the the potential for cognitive resonance, I may have just invented that term cognitive.

Dave Karlsgodt 17:47

I like it, you heard it here first.

Krista Hiser 17:48

Yeah, this is that whole, what we talked about in sustainability, the Living Learning Lab, concept of college campuses, and the way they are, you know, like, can be like a small town or an ecosystem. If a student learns it, in a classroom, experiences it on campus, sees, sees it in action in their community, a lot of students sustainability values come, of course, from their home, and from their community, from what they see at the grocery store, and so forth. So they're all interconnected, we need to think about all the places that a student interacts. The classroom, the campus, and their community are all really important sites, which is why it's important for faculty to also be engaged in the community, through programs like service learning, or just through their own, you know, engaged citizenship,

Dave Karlsgodt 18:52

I want to come back to something you mentioned earlier, because you said something about teachers bringing it up in class, I remember having experiences like that on my own college, I had an English teacher that would rant and rave, I think it was about traffic patterns, or something like that. And I used to get so frustrated, because I had nothing to do with the English course I was taking at the time. But I remember she was very passionate, and she took a good chunk of our class time to talk about whatever that was. Tell me more about that. Because it seems like you've run into that situation as well.

Krista Hiser 19:23

Well, teachers are people, and they will teach their values. They, whatever it is that they're passionate about, if they're a vegetarian, or a bike activist, a lot of the sustainability activism has been faculty driven. And those faculty will, it will bubble out of them in the way that they're teaching on the topic of the campus as a Living Learning Lab, right, so the faculty will say that whatever is being taught in the classroom, needs to be the student, if the students can experience it, then on campus, then they get that cognitive resonance. And that was maybe driving a lot of the work and campus operations. And what the research on sustainability in higher education some of the studies are saying is that the effort and energy on the operation side is actually beginning to exceed or surpass the change and transformation in the classroom, some of the classroom stuff is maybe it's just less visible. And that's what we are hope trying to do with this sustainability designation is again, make those classes more visible to students, and more visible to other faculty so that opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue are created. What's interesting is that there is so much energy on the facilities and operation side with like energy goals and things like that. So you could actually have like, kind of the reverse impact. If students are seeing water conservation practices or energy, renewable energy, and they're not hearing about that in the classroom, then that's also a lost opportunity.

Dave Karlsgodt 21:26

Oh, that's interesting. So you're basically saying that, while you might think that what's being taught in the ivory tower, which is usually way out in front, or kind of the idealistic approach to things, you would think that they're teaching sustainability concepts that I had that like, way out ahead of facilities, but what you're saying is, facilities since they are in a lot of higher education institutions are pushing efforts like that. Yeah, they may be driving the education, not the other way around

Krista Hiser 21:52

I have seen some studies to that effect. Yes. Interesting. It's, it's a very interesting time. process can be very uncomfortable for faculty who, you know, have to look at what they're teaching, and, and what it means to students, and how they fit in with this whole s designation. Sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable for faculty, it can be uncomfortable also, for facilities, managers, and administrators, sometimes it feels like there's different goals, sometimes competing goals, what is the direction we're going in? And I think the reason it feels uncomfortable is because it's change, change is difficult. What we're experiencing with sustainability in general, is really a paradigm shift. And this is a term that, you know, we we kind of use a lot paradigm shift. But what a paradigm shift really is, is a change in the fundamental knowledge, fundamental, shared common knowledge, like going from thinking the earth is flat to understanding that the earth is round, that is a paradigm shift. It's a change in scientific principle. And this is what's happening right now is a shift in, you know, the nature of life and our interaction with natural resources. The understanding that those resources are finite, is a change in how we think I looked up paradigm shift on Wikipedia. And I thought it was really interesting that somebody had added in there a one of those visual games an optical illusion, and it was a picture of a rabbit, or a duck. Depending on how you see it, you know, you kind of look at it one way, and it looks like a rabbit. Another way it looks like a duck. And this picture was representing what a paradigm shift feels like. And that that rabbit duck image is, is something I think about. Now, it when we look at Campus sustainability, we look at it one way and it looks like a rabbit. And then all of a sudden, you see it again, and it looks like a duck. And that change can happen. It's it's very, very uncomfortable. It's like, No, no, no, no, no, no, yes. And then the change can just happen like, all of a sudden, very quickly. And that's kind of where we're at right now, in the University of Hawaii system. I've been, you know, engaged in these conversations for 10 years, and they fell hard, they felt sticky, they're challenging, people would put energy in and then they get burnt out. A lot of false starts. And all of a sudden is the energy is different. And you know, it's we're starting to understand it.

Dave Karlsgodt 24:57

We had an experience like that with one of our clients, a large research institution in the Midwest, when we've been working with them over the course of a couple of years looking at different scenarios and how they could get off of coal. And at the time, it seemed pretty aspirational for them to actually pull it off. But it was interesting to see at a certain point, as the ideas percolated through the organization, and became kind of the ideas of the president and other key staff, it felt like overnight that they were able to make a transformational change. I think what was most striking to me was how wrong most of those early forecasts had been. I mean, everybody was predicting it would take him a really long time. And the only person that was even close to predicting how rapidly it would happen was a sustainability director. And even she underestimated where they eventually ended up. So it was a lot of fun to see that. But I, I guess it coming back to the term you used a second ago, you said the word cognitive dissonance. You've said that a few times that I, I guess I'd like to dig into that a little bit more. I know, a lot of the work we do, we will see people with goals, like a carbon neutrality goal of a certain year or something like that. But But along with that, they'll have these other goals that are things like, we're going to build more science buildings, or we're going to, you know, add more students or, you know, we're going to build, build, build and grow, grow, grow, but we're going to do it in a green way. And you know, a lot of term I always say to people is you can't grow your way to neutrality. But maybe he could. How, how should I think about that in this context? I mean, that's what do we do about cognitive dissonance?

Krista Hiser 26:28

Yes. Right. It's like one part of the organization, thinking one way like the sustainability department, or however it's organized, thinking one way, and then another part of campus thinking another way, it's interesting when campuses make these really big, aspirational goals, like we have a state goal to be for you h to be net zero by 2035. It's very aspirational for a leader to say that. And then, you know, the people whose job it is to make those changes, they're placed in that cognitive dissonance, suddenly, it's like, but, but how do we do that? Where does where do you even start, you know, and you'd begin with baseline measures. And we presented last week to the Board of regions. And we have an Energy Manager and his slide showed the the chart the line from where the campus was right now, in terms of renewable energy, and how it was going to get to 100%. net zero by 2035. And the, the line from 1.44%, 100% was of you have to start somewhere. But then you also have to trust that the change can be not just step wise, but jump wise, you know, it's like baby step, baby step, baby step, leap. And we have to trust that those leaps are going to happen if we keep going on baby steps.

Dave Karlsgodt 28:21

Yeah, they, we hear that term, incremental ism, which again, you can't really do baby steps all the way there, there has to be a giant leap somewhere the way? Yeah, I see that a lot. And it is it usually it's helpful when they have a goal like that, because at least it gets people thinking and talking. And I suppose the cognitive dissonance is part of the learning process, I suppose it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's or, or is it? You know, or is it just something we need to recognize?

Krista Hiser 28:47

cognitive dissonance is definitely something to recognize. It's something that happens to us all the time. And that discomfort causes us to, you know, examine our thought our thinking and our actions in a new way, when it becomes a bad thing is when there's a conflict between the thinking and the demonstrated environment. You know, it's very difficult, staying connected with sustainability and change and renewable energy. When it looks like business as usual, you know, when the media is still, you know, encouraging consumerism, and the mall is all lit up, and everybody's driving around, and it doesn't look like we're heading toward a climate crisis, it doesn't look like it, it looks like everything is fine as business as usual. And that's where I think cognitive dissonance where we can if we can address those experiences, so that students can interact with change, instead of just thinking and learning about change, when they begin to see it. That's what accelerates those those leaps. Not just in their, in their mind in that transformative learning. But in your campus projects and meeting those aspirational goals.

Dave Karlsgodt 30:34

Let's talk about the students then. So there's this concept of teaching students about sustainability. And I'm I mean that that's great, let's do that. Because in 10, or 20, or 30 years when they're running the world, will be really happy that they know these concepts. But, you know, in my day to day world, I'm placed in a position where I need to teach people that are already professionals in place about sustainability, because they're the ones that are actually making the decisions to buy the assets that we're going to be stuck with for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years. So I mean, how should I think about that?

Krista Hiser 31:03

Yeah, well, in some ways, you and I have the same job, because I'm talking with faculty about how they teach. And that is, that is one conversation. What What, what we do know a little bit about is how to teach sustainability with students. And I can tell you a couple of things that I've changed about my own teaching. Sure. One, one is that in talking with students, they'll describe, like being on a roller coaster with sustainability. If they're seeing, you know, film, like films like bag it, or, you know, any of these kind of eco attainment films, if they see that in one class, and then they're researching that, that problem or issue, and then they go to another class, and they might see the same film, and research that problem or issue. You know, we have to think about what they're learning in their other classes, and how it's going to resonate with what they're learning in our class, we have to work together to create some coherence in how we teach sustainability. Because if we don't, the risk is sometimes it's called Green fatigue. You know, if you get students all worked up about something, and then nothing happens, and then you get them all worked up and concerned again, and nothing happens, then they, they they tune out, they tune out from the real learning that is possible there. So what I did in my own teaching, I've been teaching environmental issues for almost 20 years. And I've read so many papers about polar bears floating on icebergs, and I just did not feel that these papers were sincere. I felt students were writing what they thought I wanted them to write. And they weren't really thinking through the issues. So instead of teaching the problem, so I used to send students out to you know, research and environmental issue. And then we'd write a research paper. We no longer start by teaching the problems, we start by engaging with the solutions, engaging with the solutions, kind of Prime's the mindset to become engaged in the problem, right, you want to become empowered and hopeful before you start doing the research, not vice versa. Maybe that sounds like a simple thing. But I really always am encouraging people to stop teaching problems teach the solution first.

Dave Karlsgodt 34:00

Now, I think we've kind of experienced that in our own work too. Because if we only if we just went in and talk to clients about how bad their issues are, I don't think we would get very far, the only reason we're there is because they want help figuring out the solutions. And if we can bring a message that there are some, we have a lot better chance of success than if we don't. So that totally makes sense to me.

Krista Hiser 34:19

So that's one thing. And another thing that I've learned a lot about from faculty is about the power of place. And of course, we're teaching in Hawaii, where we have an incredible host culture and incredible environment. Incredible degree of environmental impacts with biodiversity and all kinds of things going on here. The most powerful teacher we have is really the place itself is is nature itself, almost, if you teach in a classroom from a book, then it's easy to remain distant from from the information to detach from it. But if you're teaching from a grounded sense of place, it's got tremendous impact. And that's something that faculty talk about a lot.

Dave Karlsgodt 35:19

But it's interesting, you say that I remember my own experience when I grew up in Montana, where I could go fishing out my front door. And you know, it was right in the mountains as a kid. And then I went to school in Texas, and I remember how big of a shock it was just to not have the mountains right around me. And I never really realized how much appreciated that until I was moved away from it. And now that I've kids growing up in the city, we do our best to get them outside as much as possible. But you see a lot of their friends that they just have no connection whatsoever. It's just a it's a foreign experience to me, but I'm starting to understand a little better.

Krista Hiser 35:54

Yeah, well, you probably know about nature Deficit Disorder order. And it's a very real thing. If we're, if we're not connected to nature, we can't, we can't defend what we don't know what we don't what we don't love what we don't appreciate. So a lot of curriculum building does start there. Interesting, what I've learned about teaching sustainability, sustainability curriculum. And this is what I've learned from talking with faculty who are doing it, as well as from some other research on sustainability and higher education. And my own focus group research with students, it kind of boils down to a few guidelines, one is just not teaching from the problems teaching from the solutions being engaged and involved in real world solutions. The second is that idea of sense of place and being grounded in place, you know, the specific, whether it's Montana, where you're from, or here and Hawaii being grounded in place. The other thing that that comes up a lot is the importance of big picture thinking, systems thinking or creative thinking. One of our faculty actually designed a course around creative thinking. And it's actually something that you can learn, it can be practiced and developed, creative thinking. The university we are programmed to teach, you know, critical thinking. And that's actually the opposite of systems thinking critical thinking is taking things apart, systems thinking is putting them together, creative thinking is how to see problems in a new light. So teaching those kind of big picture thinking skills. And then the other skill that is most important, it's on all the workforce, future workforce skills. The most important is a communication, and both interpersonal and interpersonal. So the ability to talk with people engage people and become a change a change agent, you know, how to talk with people about climate change, or behavior change is, you know, right up there in the important skills for sustainability curriculum.

Dave Karlsgodt 38:26

Interesting. So we can't just have more engineering courses to work our way out of this.

Krista Hiser 38:32

No, it's it's, it is a much more interdisciplinary and even trans disciplinary endeavor. And, yeah, it's not just engineers, and we need different kinds of engineers.

Unknown Speaker 38:49

That's it for this episode. We hope you enjoyed part one of our two part series with Dr. Krista Hiser. As always, you can learn more the show notes and the podcast website at campusenergypodcast.com. Please let us know what you think by sending us an email. Our email address is feedback@campusenergypodcast.com. Catch you next time.