Achieving sustainability may be the defining idea of our era.

Humanity faces a series of complex, interconnected sustainability challenges, including climate change, racial and socioeconomic inequities, resource depletion and degradation, biodiversity loss and waste. At Amherst, preparing students to tackle sustainability challenges—and find viable solutions—is becoming an increasingly important component of the curriculum. No wonder: The need for change makers, systems leaders and sustainable solutions has never been so great.

These days, faculty are finding many creative ways to integrate sustainability into their courses by collaborating with the Office of Sustainability, Book & Plow Farm and the Mead Art Museum. Read on to find inspiration that sustains.

—Weston Dripps ’92, director of the Office of Sustainability

A group of students with paintbrushes in front of a colorful mural

“Public Art and Collaborative Practices”

(Art and the History of Art)


A paintbrush painting a white cloud on a wall

This is a studio art course with no past experience required. It focuses not on what one can do on one’s own, but on the power of collaboration—and it invites students to make artworks for public space and public discussion. Our first project involved painting a mural in the new Office of Sustainability. We read about murals, visited murals, and learned about the Office of Sustainability’s goals by talking with its staff and students. We had a lot of information—but only one wall. We started by drawing a grid, and after many individual and small-group designs, the 17 students in the class collaborated to compose a single image in response to what they had learned. As we were painting a mural about human visionaries, microscopic heroes, returning loons and other species coexisting, we were also practicing those principles ourselves by being in community despite our differences. Here, the students and I (I’m in the middle, in light green pants) pose with the mural mid-process.

—Lucia Monge, assistant professor of art

Two students talking excitedly in a class in front of laptop computers

“Modern Computing Hardware”

(Computer Science)

Hardware that solves hard problems

In this class, we analyze how the goals and priorities of computer hardware have changed over time and explore the motivations and technical challenges of future hardware development. These challenges include making faster, more useful and more accessible products with longer battery lives, and factoring in their environmental footprint. Throughout the semester, students apply this analysis to a series of hands-on projects culminating in a final project that customizes hardware solutions to problems they are excited about. Here, students brainstorm ideas for their final projects.

—Lillian Pentecost, assistant professor of computer science

A young woman looking at a painting of a bear in an art museum

“Finding the Humanity in Nature”

(Environmental Studies)

A visit to the Mead Art Museum

Joe Moore (philosophy and environmental studies) and I recently co-taught this new course, which introduced 21 students to the emerging field of environmental humanities. It brings together insights and approaches from disciplines as diverse as history, philosophy, religious studies, literature, the arts and more. Here we are on a field trip to Boundless, a Mead Art Museum exhibit featuring Native American reflections on experiences of place and environment. This map by Elizabeth James-Perry restores Indigenous place names to Massachusetts.

—Ted Melillo, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History and Environmental Studies

A group of students digging into the ground and planting seeds in a garden

“Food and Environment”

(Sociology and Environmental Studies)

We dug deep

This course made fundamental connections between humans and the earth. We examined theories on agriculture, food systems, and rural and urban development and how they are entangled with environmental and social transformations worldwide. We also explored how we can cultivate solutions for global health, sustainability and social justice. We kept a class blog, took several field trips and had class potlucks in which students made dishes from their own family recipes. After students learned about farming systems, farm labor, land ownership, soil fertility and more, we headed to Book & Plow Farm and got hands-on experience with Maida Ives, manager of farm education and operations. Recalled Patrick Forbes ’26: “It was fun to see the tour dissolve into buzzing voices of excited classmates digging holes and planting garlic.”

—Li Zhang, assistant professor of sociology and environmental studies

Photographs by Maria Stenzel