Survey: Faculty want help finding partners on sustainability projects


Nearly three quarters of Pitt faculty who responded to a recent survey would like help finding community partners for student projects in sustainability — and “that’s exciting,” says Daniel Mosse.

Mosse, a professor in the School of Computing and Information, is a member of the University-wide Sustainability Task Force, which recently surveyed Pitt faculty about how and how often they partner with local nonprofits, industry and government to bring sustainability projects to their students. Mosse said the survey was hoping to find any impediments to such projects, and then to recommend fresh avenues for faculty to create new ones.

The survey found that 57 percent of faculty respondents had some course content focused on sustainability, and 70 percent were interested in including the topic in their courses. Forty percent already had engaged partners from outside their department, their school or Pitt altogether, but 90 percent said they might benefit from help connecting with others for such student projects.

What are the top criteria for choosing an outside partner? Faculty said potential partners should have an “ability to offer a feasible group project for the course” and a “commitment to working with the students.”

Among potential partners, the most desirable are nonprofits, any “socially responsible organization” and local and state governments, faculty said, since these are the places where innovation in sustainability is taking place today.

Mosse cautioned that the survey went to a small group of faculty — those outside the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences and the schools of the health sciences — and received 57 responses. However, “I was glad to get almost 60 answers,” Mosse said, which showed that faculty must value the subject of sustainability.

He was encouraged to see the variety of sustainability projects for students already underway, recorded in the survey responses, from those focused on local watersheds and stormwater issues to those concerning education, historic preservation, health care and other community-centered issues.

“I expected that most of the projects will be for nonprofits and government agencies, but I was surprised to see there were a certain amount of people who want to work with industry” as well, he added, to help manufacturers make their products more sustainable. Faculty, he said, “are actually concerned about how students can profit from the projects.”

With these results, Mosse said the committee is exploring the possibility of setting up a portal to connect faculty and their classroom projects with the best community partners. They’ll also aim to create tools to augment courses with more sustainability content, although Mosse knows faculty will say, “My course is packed. There’s no space for anything. Can we get bite-sized info …?”

If the portal comes to pass, matching the goals of classrooms and the needs of any external partners to improve their products’ sustainability will continue to be “an interesting challenge,” Mosse said.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.