Williams-Mystic Associate Professor of Geosciences Lisa Gilbert to Lead Community Workshop for Earth Educators

“The act of coming together could result in a lot of smaller projects that add up to something big. Sometimes when we talk about something being at a national scale, what we’re talking about is a bunch of little things that share a vision.”

At Williams-Mystic, students from a wide range of majors come together to discuss some of today’s most pressing environmental challenges — and to explore, as they go through the semester together, how we can address these challenges. Underlying this approach is the belief that, simply by bringing these students together as part of a close-knit community centered on a single topic, new ideas and approaches can emerge that might never occur otherwise. 

A similar philosophy undergirds The Earth Education for Sustainable Societies Community Workshop, a project led by Lisa Gilbert, Associate Professor of Geosciences and Marine Science at Williams-Mystic, in collaboration with Cathy Manduca (Carleton College), Rachel Teasedale (California State University, Chico), Felicia Davis (Clark Atlanta University), Margie Turin (Columbia University) and others. 

“I see it as a way to, on a national scale, get a lot of different people with different perspectives sharing together about the future of the planet, and the role education has” in that future, Gilbert said of the workshop. 

Held at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota on October 14 to 16, the workshop will welcome educators from a wide variety of institutions: museums, school districts, outreach organizations, colleges, and more. It will be funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation totaling nearly $100,000. Gilbert is the Principal Investigator (PI) on the grant, with Manduca as her co-PI. The workshop will be free to participants, and lodging, meals, and select travel costs will be covered as well. 

With funding secured, Gilbert and her collaborators are now exploring how to reach a wide variety of educators in advance of the August 5 deadline for applying for the workshop. As part of this effort, Gilbert and her collaborators on the project will hold a town hall during the 2019 Earth Educators Rendezvous, a gathering co-hosted by Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee on July 15–19, 2019. The town hall will take place on Wednesday, July 17 at 5:30–6:30 pm. 

The goals of the workshop itself, Gilbert said, are intentionally open-ended. Bring educators together who might not otherwise have met, she believes, and ideas will result that might have been impossible to predict in advance. 

“People live in silos and don’t have many opportunities to come together around the shared goal of equipping students to build a more sustainable future”, Gilbert said. Small-scale partnerships around sustainability education are already happening, but “what would that network look like if we could set it up?”

It’s an approach that comes from Gilbert’s own experiences, both as a geosciences educator and at Williams-Mystic. 

As Gilbert worked on projects seeking to encourage students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue geosciences, for instance, it became clear to her that such efforts also had to begin earlier than college; these projects had to involve educators working with students throughout their lives, and had to think broadly about how to make students aware of the many forms that careers in sustainability can take.

At the same time, Gilbert herself experienced the power of coming together with a variety of sustainability educators by attending the Earth Educators Rendezvous, a gathering open to a wide range of educators. The Rendezvous began in 2015 as an outgrowth of InTeGrate, another NSF-funded project led by Manduca, along with a large leadership team including Gilbert, that provides tools to sustainability educators. The idea for the community workshop, in turn, arose at the Earth Educators Rendezvous, as attendees discussed how to build on the success of InTeGrate. 

“Through my involvement in that project, I started working with more K-12 teachers,” Gilbert said. “InTeGrate has been very successful and that model could be reimagined at a bigger scale.”

Indeed, Gilbert sees Williams-Mystic as a good example of a model that could be applied elsewhere — particularly the model of situating an experiential higher education program at a sprawling, world-class museum. 

“In the past week, I’ve had meetings in Education, in Exhibits, and at the Sailing Center about different ways in which science is important to a museum. That sort of connection between higher education and the public interface with how we think about the ocean is a really cool model for things that need to be happening at a bigger scale.”

For Gilbert, scaling isn’t necessarily about taking a program that works well at a local, community level and expanding it to a single program with a national reach. Rather, scaling means providing the opportunity for educators to come together, coordinate with one another, and share successful approaches. 

“The act of coming together,” as she put it, “could result in a lot of smaller projects that add up to something big. Sometimes when we talk about something being at a national scale, what we’re talking about is a bunch of little things that share a vision.”

At the end of the day, for Gilbert, the most exciting aspects of the workshop are also those that are the hardest to predict in advance.

“I’m trying to not have a specific idea for how this will go,” she reflected. “It’s a very process-centered outcome of new relationships developing between people and new and unexpected ideas that we can then turn into something coming out of it. I don’t know what those ideas are, I don’t know what those little or large communities are going to look like. What I’m hoping for is inspiration and connectedness, and that those two things together are going to bring out a bunch of new, actionable ideas.”


The Earth Education for Sustainable Societies Community Workshop will be held at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota on October 14–16, 2019. It is open to anyone with interests in sustainability education. There is no registration fee and lodging, meals, and some travel costs are covered. Applications for the workshop are accepted July 1 through August 5, 2019. For more information and to apply, visit https://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/workshops/sust_societies/overview.html

The Town Hall related to the community workshop will take place at 5:30–6:30 pm on Wednesday, July 17 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Town Hall is part of the 2019 Earth Educators Rendezvous; more information can be found at https://serc.carleton.edu/earth_rendezvous/2019/program/itg_townhall.html