An interactive talking trash can that tells people what—and what not—to recycle; a plan for reducing the impact of industrial farming; partnering with WT’s Go Green club to produce an Earth Day program of learning and doing. These student-driven projects focus on developing solutions for environmental degradation issues and empower students to take action and make a difference in diverse ways—all in their study of American history.

Inspired by growing student and faculty interest, the Upper School expanded its environmentally-themed, cross-disciplinary curriculum with two new courses this year, Applied Ecology and Environmental Science, and American Environmental History. The project-based courses augment existing offerings in Biology, Chemistry, and Literature.

“Overall, we want to give students several different pathways, based upon their interests, in all disciplines,” declares Director of Upper School Kristen Klein. “The Environmental Literature option we introduced last year helped more STEM-oriented students see themselves as writers. The addition of the science and history courses enables this same type of interest-driven, relevant work in other disciplines.”

In Applied Ecology and Environmental Science, students analyze the interplay between science, people, society, and the environment of the Pittsburgh region. At the heart of the course are student-developed laboratory investigations and fieldwork where advanced methods and technologies are applied in areas like ecology, microbiology, sustainable food production, genetics, and bioengineering. Opportunities to form research partnerships with the local scientific community amplify student work.

“The environmental focus helps make scientific research more approachable for students who may not previously have been so inclined,” says teacher Nicole Nesbitt. “Now, those students see themselves as scientists more than they did before.”

In American Environmental History, taught by Callie Gropp ’03, students undertake broad, deep exploration of links between environment and culture, mining historical case studies of human-environment interactions.

“I want students to bear witness to the power, possibility, and hope that comes when our actions align with our values,” says Gropp, “to see themselves as capable not only of discussing and writing about ideas, but of translating ideas into action.”

“By studying environmental issues and sustainability across disciplines, it becomes easier for students to see the connections in all aspects of their lives,” adds Nesbitt.

Klein concurs. “It is the students who are drawing the complex webs of connection among these disciplines, bringing many different skills and approaches to bear on the topic of sustainability.”