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Fall 2008


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Program Notes: M.A. in Sustainable Communities
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Program Notes
Sandra Lubarsky

M.A. in Sustainable Communities

In a ground-breaking essay, leading environmental thinker David Orr asked, "What is education for?"  The Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities Program at NAU answers that it ought to expect people to contribute to the well-being of life on the planet—and prepare them to do so. 

The Sustainable Communities graduate program is one of only a handful in the country dedicated to the study of sustainability.  Recognized at the national level as a model for other graduate programs, it provides students a unique interdisciplinary way to focus on the “commons” of our community life. 

The program began more than a decade ago as the Master of Liberal Studies Program with the theme of "Visions of Good and Sustainable Communities." It recently joined the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and continues an issue-based curriculum where students create their own course of study to address their intellectual, ethical, and practical concerns. All seek to learn how to better their communities and the world in unique and achievable ways. 

Preparing people to contribute to the well-being of life on the planet...
This spring, five students in the program were recipients of the Henry Hooper Student Fund competition for projects that advance sustainability on campus or in the region. Their research represents the broad and relevant interests characteristic of students in the program.  Vince Mariola is working on a carbon offset program and tree-planting effort in Ghana that will help NAU meet its commitment to becoming carbon neutral by the year 2020. Roberto Nutlouis is directing an edible landscape project that teaches Navajo youth about traditional ecological knowledge. Kathleen Curran is completing a full-length documentary, Greening the Revolution, on globalization and food security.  And Ian Dixon-McDonald and Jessica McGrath are growing food on the NAU campus, providing an open classroom for learning about native and heirloom plants of the Colorado Plateau.

Noble goals need not remain abstract. Graduates from the program have practiced a remarkable variety of engaged scholarship in their communities.  They have become transportation planners, LEED-certified consultants, leaders of non-profit organizations, professional writers, university teachers, film-makers, public school teachers, and community organizers. Several have gone on to law school and into Ph.D. programs.

"You leave the program," one of our graduates once wrote, "but you remain committed to the issues."  That’s exactly the kind of sustainability we want to engender.  

—Sandra Lubarsky, Director

Student Marie Gladue is building a straw bale home on Big Mountain where her mother lives in a traditional hogan. She hosted the spring 2008 M.A. capstone class for an overnight where they learned about living sustainably on Navajo lands. The fellow students had a workshop on carding wool and on straw bale building. They also participated in a sweat lodge ceremony, prepared a meal together (including freshly slaughtered lamb), and shared cultural narratives.
Big Mountain Workshop