photo of Susan Santone and incoming SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi

Nationally Acclaimed Educator Headlines Sustainability Conference

photo of Susan Santone and incoming SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi

Susan Santone and incoming SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi. Photo by Michelle Terris.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Especially in Silicon Valley, we all know we need to produce more scientists and engineers to lead the way in developing a sustainable way of life. The question is – how? Susan Santone might have the answer.

The driving force behind Michigan-based Creative Change Educational Solutions headlined the “Educating for Sustainability” conference May 3 at SJSU.

The conference was extremely well received, with over 50 participants including educators from as far away as the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The genius of Santone’s approach is it is comprehensive (did you know women in rural Africa spend more than 25 percent of their day carrying water?) while being effective.

Santone’s goal is to affect positive change while increasing student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math, known in academic circles as STEM education.

Santone found the Silicon Valley crowd “acutely aware of the needs and issues surroundings sustainability and STEM education … because of the location and the historic role of STEM in the region.”

“At the same time,” she continued, “the event echoed common themes I’ve found everywhere, from rural Minnesota to urban New York: People have a deep concern about our shared future and the type of world we will leave our children.”

The SJSU Connection

The event was funded in part by Chevron and hosted by the Bay Area Earth Science Institute, within the College of Science. BAESI provides professional development opportunities for teachers in grades 4-12.

BAESI Co-Director Ellen Metzger met Santone while searching for new materials for her master’s in science education students.

Incoming SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi opened the conference by emphasizing no other region of the world is better positioned to lead the move from oil to alternative fuels than Silicon Valley.

Qayoumi noted the transition will take a huge amount of innovation and entrepreneurialism from a wide range of college-educated professionals, just the sort of people produced by SJSU.

In her opening marks, SJSU Sustainability Director Katherine Cushing shared the story of a San Francisco teacher and SJSU alumna who incorporated sustainability into her math class curriculum.

So for example, instead of solving polynomial equations in the abstract, students used such work as a tool to arrive at solutions for real world environmental issues.

“This approach really can work toward improving student achievement,” said Cushing, noting the students’ test scores improved.

Sharing Ideas

On that positive note, participants literally rolled up their sleeves and got to work on group projects that demonstrate the classroom curriculum developed by Santone.

Afterwards, Bellarmine College Preparatory Science Department Chair Patrick Adams found much to contemplate while returning to work.

“As I was riding my bike back to Bellarmine after the conference, I was struck by how incredibly important opportunities like attending this conference and meeting with a broad cross-section of the community are for educators and planners,” Adams said. “We all spend lots of time working on our own projects and we all have very busy lives but this time to share our ideas and struggles is critical to our collaboration and growth.

“The second ‘big idea’ that I took with me was the inclusion of the creative arts in the STEM model. Thinking about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math without including the ‘A’ for Arts would fail to recognize the absolute need for creativity, imagination and expression that will be required in order to teach for sustainability and move our entire global community toward a truly sustainable future. “