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Role Models And Environmental Education: The Good, The Bad, And The Mia

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.485.1 - 3.485.10

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Paper Authors

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Fiona S. Crofton

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Cynthia A. Mitchell

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2251

Role Models and Environmental Education: The Good, The Bad, and the MIA

Fiona S. Crofton, The ORCAD Group Inc., Vancouver, Canada Cynthia A. Mitchell, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Students 'know' that learning about communication, sustainability, social issues, even environmental issues, is "not very important." They know this because many, perhaps even most, of their engineering professors do not pay much attention to these things; they know because learning about such things means picking up a couple of courses outside of the engineering faculty as part of their 'complementary studies' requirement. "Besides," says one student, "I've never seen anyone deal with these things during work experience." Other students in the group not their heads in agreement. "Yeah," says another student, "and companies aren't going to hire 'tree-huggers' anyway."

Many faculty members still maintain that, except for environmental engineering specialties, there isn't time or space to fit environmental/sustainability issues into already densely-packed courses. Some maintain that these are issues for attention after students complete their basic education. In any case, to quote one faculty member, "Sustainable development has nothing to do with engineering" (apparently it's a "policy issue").

We disagree. In fact, we believe that we are all already teaching students how to respond to environmental/sustainability issues. It is said that talk is cheap; nonetheless, it's not without effect, and what is left unsaid can be as important as what is spoken. Further, even if people doubt what you say, they'll believe (and learn from) what you do. Whether we recognise it or not, all of us are role models — for better or worse. And what we ourselves model in the classroom is as important, perhaps even more important, than what we hold up as other examples to our students. It is essential that we become more self-aware and reflective practitioners.

This paper considers some of the ways that we, as 'role models' in the classroom, do and could impact students. The context for our discussion is environmental education in a broad sense, inclusive of ecological, social and economic 'environments', or what some people consider the three 'legs' of sustainable development. We believe engineering education should facilitate development of students' knowledge, attitudes and skills in ways which are attentive to these environments and that this task is not exclusive to environmental engineering specialisations. The paper provides examples of some good and not-so-good role model behaviours, and identifies areas where better or more role models are needed. The paper also includes suggestions for identifying, supporting, encouraging and/or developing role models (ourselves included!) of the environmental engineer and engineering educator of the future.

Crofton, F. S., & Mitchell, C. A. (1998, June), Role Models And Environmental Education: The Good, The Bad, And The Mia Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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