SUSTAIN-SLO takes students outside the classroom and puts them in communities to work on projects that create sustainable environmental, economic and social systems.

A new learning initiative at Cal Poly — Sino-Us Strategic Alliance for Innovation, called SUSTAIN-SLO — is recruiting freshmen to take part in a new learning experience with hopes of improving local nonprofits, community life and environment.

According to their website, SUSTAIN-SLO is a two-quarter learning initiative that links classroom lectures with field experiments or projects to create sustainable communities through environmental, economic and social systems.

This is the first year students can apply to the cohort, but faculty has been doing field tests for approximately two years to create a new, efficient learning environment that is similar to Cal Poly’s Learn By Doing way of teaching.

SUSTAIN-SLO is different from other programs on campus because each student is required to take a series of “linked” courses each quarter while working on community projects that reinforce the course material.

The classes are considered linked because faculty has collaborated and integrated the course material with the community projects to create a different learning environment, according to the website.

These classes are held daily so students can easily grasp concepts.

Course work taken while enrolled in SUSTAIN-SLO will also go toward students’ degrees. Each student is advised to take three SUSTAIN courses, which are mostly general education classes guaranteed to students accepted into the cohort and one major-related course.

SUSTAIN-SLO allows freshmen to stay on course to earning their degree while working with staff and faculty to better the learning environment.

Mechanical engineering freshman Garrett Schwanke has been actively working with the initiative and said he is excited for it to start.

“I’ve already gained some invaluable connections with professors and team members,” Schwanke said. “I am most excited about the idea that our students can use their skills and expertise for more than just busy work on tests, but rather use them to benefit the community.”

Cal Poly is not the first campus to enact this learning initiative. SUSTAIN started as a partnership between faculty from Tongji University in China, Cal Poly and Stanford University to work on improving living standards in rural China while focusing on creating a “greener,” more efficient way of living.

Although students will not be working directly on issues in China, SUSTAIN-SLO plans to work locally with the SLO Foodbank, San Miguel Mission, Friends of Fiscalini Ranch and many other local organizations to create a sustainable local community.

Students and facility essentially work together to achieve a common goal.

Materials engineering junior Carl Petterson works on recruitment for SUSTAIN-SLO and said he believes the projects are a more interesting way for students to learn.

“The alternative learning environment will provide a much more valuable learning experience than a traditional classroom setting,” Petterson said. “Involvement in SUSTAIN-SLO provides a way for me to develop a relationship with a great community of professors here at Cal Poly. The professors involved in this program are an admirably forward-thinking group of people.”

Industrial and manufacturing engineering associate professor Lizabeth Schlemer said the SUSTAIN faculty wanted to take this opportunity and use the SUSTAIN-SLO learning initiative to improve the learning environment.

“We have received two grants from the National Science Foundation, totaling about $600,000, to research this initiative,” wrote Schlemer in an email. “The money does not go to the initiative or the faculty, but to help us study if this is a better learning environment. There is national attention on what we are doing.”

The cohort is looking for 100 students from all majors and ability levels to join this new way of learning, Schlemer said.

“We have not received a lot of applications yet, as the process is a bit time consuming,” Schlemer said. “The deadline is Oct. 28. We hope to get a pool of applicants and then randomly select the 100 students.”

Students interested in applying can visit SUSTAIN-SLO’s website for more information or visit the weekly information meeting on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. in the Robert E. Kennedy Library, room 202A.

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