I Want to Make a Difference

I Want to Make a Difference: Motivating students to learn by providing them with an opportunity to enhance campus environmental sustainability efforts

This project built an infrastructure to improve the assignment for Social Sciences and Environmental Problems (Environ 211) and developed a model for faculty seeking to engage undergraduates in research syntheses that benefit students’ academic achievement and serve the greater good.

Environ 211’s assignment goal is for students to identify, synthesize, and apply social science research to inform campus environmental sustainability efforts.  Research confirmed that students are motivated by this assignment as it affords an opportunity to make a difference.

Based on this project’s funding we were able to 1) develop, test, and revise a user friendly public web-site sharing students’ insights into how campus sustainability efforts can be improved based on social science research (Social Sciences for Sustainability), 2) create instructions and support materials for students to effectively use the site, 3) complete research on the relationships between the assignment/website and students’ motivation, engagement, and course performance, and 4) share “lessons learned” with faculty similarly interested in strengthening students’ secondary research skills.

Creating a single web-site has ensured that content generated by students’ remains accessible and can be built and improved upon over time, to help all those seeking to enhance UM’s and other campus’ sustainability.  As traffic to the site grows and positive feedback is added, students will recognize that their ability to make a difference extends beyond UM, to campuses across the globe. This will further increase students’ motivation to produce quality content and thus, lead to additional improvements in their understanding of the benefits of the social sciences for addressing sustainability and other societal challenges.


Project Team:

Michaela Zint, Associate Professor, School of Natural Resources and Environment, School of Education, and College of Literature, Science, and the Arts