Education

There should be a meaningful, horizontal integration of sustainability in the educational programs of TU Delft.

Vision

Besides research, the primary activity of TU Delft is the education of its students. For TU Delft to fulfil its responsibility to educate socially responsible engineers, it is GreenTU’s vision that all students their education must provide them with:

  1. The same basic grammar concerning sustainability and social issues.
  2. Possibilities to explore sustainability in their academic life.
  3. Possibilities to become experts on sustainability-related topics.

Basic Grammar

This goal aligns with the idea that every student must have a practical basic grammar in sustainability. Since sustainability is a multidisciplinary problem spanning all industries, it is important for students to not only understand how sustainability plays a role within their own discipline, but also how to communicate across disciplines.

GreenTU is aware of the workload staff faces and that adding one topic to the curriculum often means removing another. It is therefore the shared vision of GreenTU and Lijst Bèta to integrate sustainability as a ‘green thread’ throughout educational programmes, which is currently being explored through the Green Thread Initiative.

Exploration

This goal is seen as a prerequisite to the goal of educating experts in sustainability. Giving students opportunities to find their interest and niche in sustainable development would be the logical step to reach this goal.

The most impactful time to let students explore the sustainability-related opportunities in their field is at the bachelor level, before they have chosen a master degree. Here, a notable choice offered is the minor space in the third year. There is currently already a decent number of sustainability-focussed minors across all faculties, meaning that GreenTU’s goal in this regard is to improve visibility of these options.

 

Expert

This goal is grounded in the reality that technical experts working on sustainability are much needed and that there are particular qualities which distinguish such expertise from other specialisations.

The academic expertise of most students culminates in the completion of a master program. TU Delft has two programs, Sustainable Energy Technology and Industrial Ecology, which are centred around sustainability, with several other programs including sustainability as a main focus in one or several of their tracks. GreenTU takes the approach that sustainability experts are needed in all fields and can take many forms, meaning that developing new electives and tracks is a priority.

Call to action

To be able to educate socially responsible engineers, sustainability should ideally be given an integral place in all educational programs, making it a common thread between and within curricula. That is why GreenTU and the GreenTeams are working hard to implement the so-called Green Thread initiative (proposed by Lijst Beta) across as many faculties as possible, following a successful pilot at CEG and AS. To read all about this main educational initiative of ours, please read the summary document below.  

Green Thread Initiative

From the research done by GreenTeams in the 2020-2021 academic year, which can be read in their inventory reports, there was a consistent recommendation to teach relevant aspects of sustainability alongside the disciplines students are already instructed in. At the same time, there are obvious hurdles when trying to update education. The curricula are dense, meaning an effort must be made to make room for any additions, while the workload of staff must of course also be taken into account.

To achieve these desired results while managing the restrictions mentioned, Lijst Bèta and GreenTU have developed an initiative based on the value of student participation to empower students, diversify perspectives, and reduce staff workload. The aim of this initiative is to give sustainability an integral place in all educational programmes, thereby making it a common thread between and in curricula. We therefore call our framework for change the Green Thread (de Groene Draad).

The Green Thread operates by reinforcing the activity under the educational portfolio of the existing GreenTeams. Complementing the work they previously accomplished, GreenTeams are now working on sustainability in targeted courses by working with academic staff to replace or extend current teaching materials (case studies, project topics, the tools students are provided, ...) with examples and information centred around environmental sustainability. Academic staff members come up with the outline of the changes they want to see. After refining this with the GreenTeam, one or more student assistants can work on the implementation.

In the second quarter of 2020-2021, a pilot of this plan was started at the AS and CEG faculties, using the budget of GreenTU and the cooperation of the faculties’ GreenTeams. Through this pilot, a template is made to stimulate the integration of sustainability courses. Central to this process is that the course coordinator(s) retain control of their course, but with minimal administrative hassle that is typically associated with change. GreenTU and the GreenTeam help form an actionable plan, followed by the recruitment of the student assistant(s) with the desired skills, while also making sure the appropriate funding is allocated.

For example, the progress made with this pilot means that the course Introduction to Civil Engineering (Civil Engineering BSc) and Financial Engineering (Construction Management & Engineering MSc) will pay special attention to sustainability in the 2021-2022 academic year. Respectively, by paying attention to the challenges contemporary civil engineers face and by looking at sustainable finance.

The positive experiences with the pilots so far can be attributed for a significant part to the enthusiasm of involved staff members and to the qualities and ambitions already present in TU Delft students. Combined with a diligent selection procedure, a good match is made between the desires for the course and the student(s) that will work on it. A detailed evaluation will take place in August 2021. In the meantime, a main requirement for the continuation of this project is to continue identifying and approaching staff members who want to improve their courses through this framework. Do you know, or are you yourself, such a staff member? Get in touch, so we can continue this initiative in the coming academic years.