Signature Courses

GW offers a suite of signature courses under the Office of the Provost. These courses are team-taught by faculty from several schools and deliver a comprehensive understanding of sustainability concepts. Students from any school and major may take these courses.

Read Professors Melissa Keeley and Lisa Benton-Short's reflections on team teaching an interdisciplinary course.


SUST 1001: Introduction to Sustainability

The concept of sustainability is both broad and specific as it is applied to areas ranging from social systems to law, engineering, public health, and natural systems. The course considers goals, principles, and practical applications, with a multidisciplinary perspective on major environmental and social issues growing out of these concerns. The course is structured around the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SUST 1001 is a requirement for the minor. Team taught, lead by the Director of the Sustainability Minor and Assistant Professor of Biology, Tara Scully.

Course Objectives:

1)    Define and describe sustainability in different contexts.
2)    Examine key ideas and challenges in sustainability from a multidisciplinary perspective (i.e., natural science, social science, arts, engineering) and be able to balance diverse perspectives in determining the best course of action. 
3)    Explain the legal, regulatory, economic, and societal factors that motivate and hinder the adoption of sustainable policies and practice.
4)    Apply interdisciplinary approaches to team-based problem-solving and interventions around critical issues in sustainability.
5)    Research and analyze the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of a city, state, country or region.  

SUST 2002: The Sustainable City

This course explores the connection between cities and sustainability.  We consider sustainability from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives and examine some of the most pressing and critical issues that must be addressed in order to create a sustainable city. Central to this course is a focus on Washington, D.C.  Ultimately, this course is concerned with how the future of cities and the quality of life for those who live there can be improved through sustainable urban development projects and policy.

Team taught by:

  • Melissa Keeley, Geography (Lead Professor)
  • Lisa Benton-Short, Geography
  • Royce Francis, Engineering Management & Systems Engineering
  • Christopher Klemek, History

Capstone Options

SUST 3096: Research in Sustainability

This course is structured with content and research experience on a faculty-chosen topic. Students will learn to integrate sustainability principles in directed research, using appropriate methodologies and theories. The course is designed to promote reasoning and reflective practice, to transmit the values and beliefs that enable the application of ethics related to sustainability, and to develop and expand research and writing skills in regards to the practice of sustainability. SUST 3096 fulfills the experiential learning requirement for the minor. Taught by Royce Francis, Associate Professor of Engineering Management & Systems Engineering.

Course Objectives:

1)    Identify commonly used air quality monitoring techniques and assess neighborhood exposures.
2)    Analyze environmental data to advocate and support community action in DC.
3)    Explore and connect the links between engineering, big data, toxicology, epidemiology, exposures, populations, and community impacts.

SUST 3097: Culminating Experience in Sustainability

A key piece of GW’s Sustainability Minor is the Culminating Experience, which is based in experiential learning. The Culminating Experience provides students with an opportunity to apply what they learned through their sustainability-related coursework. 

There are several sections of this course that focus on various issues and skills:

Sections 10 and 30

Students commit to at least 60 hours of work in addition to attending the Sustainability Practitioner Forums held throughout the semester. The goals of the forums are professional development and building a cohort of sustainability-driven students. Themes of the forums include: career coaching, how to start a start-up, taking the steps to build internships into a job, documentary film-making, sustainable storytelling, nonprofits role in community building, diversity and inclusion, government and private entities moving sustainability forward, and many more. For their final projects, students in this course will share their stories with Planet Forward. SUST 3097 fulfills the experiential learning requirement for the minor. 

Course Objectives:

1)    Observe and describe how concerns of sustainability are addressed and balanced through policy, discourse, and action.
2)    Synthesize your previous academic work and apply it to your capstone endeavors. 
3)    Engage in events which further your professional portfolio. 
4)    Communicate—concisely, persuasively, and professionally—how the people and communities you work with are integrating sustainability into their fields.  
5)    Construct material conveying how your experience within your workplace or research is valuable to others. 

Course Requirements:

  • Letter or email from the student’s supervisor/faculty mentor at the organization/company/government department where the student is working for the internship/service/research. The letter needs to contain confirmation of the offer for the semester.
  • Students will attend five practitioner forums throughout the semester they are enrolled.
  • Students will write a series of reflection essays on their experience throughout the semester. The Instructor will provide prompts at the beginning of the semester.
  • Students will submit a story to Planet Forward as part of their final project. 
Section 31

This section will introduce students to a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods that can be used to research complex sustainability problems from multidisciplinary perspectives. These methods will include developing good research questions, surveys and focus groups, literature review techniques, social network analysis, regression analysis, and a variety of additional qualitative and quantitative approaches. Collaborations among the professor and students will generate guidance on how to prepare grant proposals and budgets. Each student will focus on a specific project using the methods learned with the goal of (eventually) acquiring external funding and publishing an article in a high quality peer reviewed journal. There may be opportunities to work on on-going research projects addressing topics such as Arctic urban sustainability, coastal development, and energy equity. Taught by the Director of Research for the Sustainability Institute and Research Professor of International Affairs, Robert Orttung.


Students wishing to register for SUST 3097 will need fill out and submit the following:

SUST 3094: Culminating Experience in Sustainability

Students will design and carry out research that engages and supports DC residents from marginalized or underserved communities. During this course, students will identify, research, and interpret intersections between environmental, technological, socioeconomic, and political problems and opportunities within communities in DC. In analyzing real world problems faced by DC residents, students will apply analytical methods from the natural and social sciences, peer-reviewed research, and interdisciplinary knowledge gained through prior coursework. The goal of this community-engaged research is to develop proposals for service- learning projects, with the possibility of funding or further development through the Public Service Grant Commission grants, the Eco-Equity Challenge, the Knapp Fellowship, Climathon, the New Venture Competition, and other opportunities. This course serves as a capstone experience for the Sustainability Minor, but it is not limited to students in the minor. Students with existing service- learning or social innovation projects may use this course to support project implementation and adaptive management. Prerequisites: SUST 1001. Credit cannot be earned for this course and SUST 3097.

Course Objectives:

 1) Foundations. What is environmental justice? Be able to clearly define environmental justice, examine national and local data sets to identify specific types of environmental injustice, and describe one local case study in detail. Additionally, explore your individual orientation to environmental justice and community engagement. 

2) Field Research. Research community context and needs. Examine the natural environment, culture, socioeconomic and political background, and history of a specific neighborhood. Observe and listen to the needs of community members and staff of the partner organization. Synthesize this research into a multifaceted understanding of the context relevant to each project. 

3) Design thinking. Propose an innovative service project based on stakeholder engagement, field research, literature review, and data analysis. Solutions may involve technology and should be based on students’ expertise and community needs. Work with team members and propose ways to engage the community during both the design and implementation of proposed solutions. Note: If you are part of a relevant community-engaged service-learning project that is already underway (for instance, through the Eco- Equity Challenge), work to adaptively manage your project based on what you have learned through this class. 

4) Communication. There can be great value to communities in translating technical data and concepts. Synthesize your analyses and experiences into a meaningful narrative through your proposal, presentation, and reflections. Students should be able to articulate concepts from this course for a range of audiences, including the stakeholders within the partner organization, community, and GW.