First Advisor

Loren Lutzenhiser

Date of Publication

Spring 5-12-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Urban Studies (M.U.S.)


Urban Studies and Planning




Sustainability -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Oregon -- Portland, Experiential learning -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Oregon -- Portland, Career development -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Oregon -- Portland



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 68 pages)


This study focuses on sustainability in higher education and the competencies essential to address sustainability issues. Because sustainability issues are complex, "wicked", and dynamic, sustainability education programs need to reflect the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the field. Graduates who are competent in sustainability research and problem solving will have the knowledge, skills, and attitude necessary to analyze a sustainability problem systemically and comprehensively, then will construct and implement interventions to reach optimal sustainability solutions. To prepare graduates, sustainability education programs should facilitate the development of key sustainability competencies (Wiek, Withycombe, & Redman, 2011). Such programs provide an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates real-world sustainability issues through a combination of formal (guided by curriculum) and informal (not guided by curriculum) learning environments.

This study examines Community Environmental Services (CES), a research and service unit at Portland State University (PSU) that has been providing students informal learning opportunities connected to real-world projects. CES projects provide students opportunities to work with community partners addressing waste, recycling, and materials management issues. The intent of this research is to determine if CES provides students real-world learning opportunities not provided in traditional academic programs that facilitate the development of sustainability competencies, and positively influence students' employment opportunities post-graduation.

The findings from this research suggest that CES alumni believed they were proficient in each of the key sustainability competencies, which were developed equally through their experiences working at CES and their academic program. This study also found that CES alumni felt their experiences working at CES- including the development of professional skills and building a professional network- had more of an impact on future employment and career opportunities than their academic degree or other sources. The findings and insights from this research provide a model for sustainability education that can be replicated by other universities. A combination of formal sustainability curriculum integrated across campus, and informal real-world learning opportunities help facilitate student development of key sustainability competencies.


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