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Robert Vassalotti
Department:† Fashion Merchandising Management†
Initiative: Team Projects - Optional Topics on Sustainable†Issues

"Issues surrounding Sustainability begin with our own individual actions: what we do every day, and how we influence those we come into contact with. We CAN make changes and we MUST initiate changes within our organizations. Sustainable actions are not a trend; they must be a way of life, forever." - RV†

How would you categorize your initiative?
My activity is a student project (assignment) within an existing required course.

Please describe your activity and its relevance to sustainability in the curriculum.
One course that I teach is a Team Development Workshop class: FM 268. It is a required course in the FMM AAS degree program, 3rd semester. Students are separated into four teams of six. Teams must complete two research projects and presentations. They can choose topics of their choice, but are encouraged to consider topics of Humanitarian, Social, Environmental (Sustainable issues), or Political significance. They create informative presentations so as to educate the class on their chosen subject. They must create an informative PowerPoint, informative class handout, and have interesting visuals, while being sure to involve the class in a discussion and learning experience. I have been doing this for many years and students react well to the experience and are often quite proud of their teamís work. I designed this research project in 1999 and have included it in my course ever since.

Briefly describe your experience implementing your activity.
In my experience, students are very interested in these concepts and often select topics in the area of sustainability. I have also had student projects included in the annual sustainability conference at FIT. Students have attended the conferences and had their work on display and interacted with conference attendees. They have researched diverse subjects such as: comparing the recycling efforts in NYC to those of Seoul, Korea; examining the impact our industry has on global warming; exploring issues of genetically modified foods; sustainable textiles; retailers and designers who practice sustainable methods; human trafficking; womenís rights in foreign lands; safety of drinking water around the world; ocean pollution; the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; dangers of plastic bags in the retail industry; and how we can live more environmentally friendly lives every day and many more.

Do you anticipate any next steps in your sustainability initiative?
I have considered having the presentations filmed or inviting others from the campus or industry to observe them.

Based on your experience, do you have any suggestions or advice you might give to other faculty interested in incorporating sustainability into the curriculum?
There are always connections to sustainable issues embedded in nearly every course. It is a matter of finding ways to bring these issues to light via lectures, guest speakers, assignments, or projects: be creative! A great book on why we should be blending sustainable issues into all that we do (and all that we teach) is one from David W. Orr entitled, Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect, 1994 Island Press, Washington, D.C. I also recommend another one of Orrís books, The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention 2004, Oxford University Press, New York.

Does your initiative have applicability to other curricular or program areas?
There are a few new Bachelor of Science courses in FMM that will allow students to select courses in the upper division major area electives on the subjects of sustainability and social responsibility.

Do you have anything else to add?
Iím very pleased to see the greater focus that members of the FIT community are placing on these important issues and how our campus is becoming focused on changing, and to become a more sustainable environment. I am also thrilled to see the FIT curricular database on these important issues taking shape. It is refreshing to witness the enthusiasm that our students have towards a future that can change and their desire to want to be involved in changes NOW. We all have a great deal still to accomplish here at FIT and our focus should never wane. Every member of our community must be involved in their own way. What are you doing to help?

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