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The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.

Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 68.76
Liaison Kimberly Williams
Submission Date Feb. 27, 2015
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.0

George Washington University
AC-5: Immersive Experience

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 2.00 Lisa Benton-Short
Director of the Sustainability Academic Program
Department of Geography
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Does the institution offer at least one immersive, sustainability-focused educational study program that meets the criteria for this credit?:

A brief description of the sustainability-focused immersive program(s) offered by the institution:

There is a strong emphasis across GW's various degree programs on immersive experiences, because of the location and culture of GW: semester-long experiential learning that includes service learning, service, and internships with community partners in D.C. and around the world are the norm. Often, as with the minor in sustainability, the course listing is identified as "Culminating Experience" or "Capstone Seminar." Following are some examples that demonstrate the breadth of activity on campus.

As of Fall 2012, all undergraduate sustainability minors are required to complete an experiential learning component for the minor. This three-credit academic requirement challenges students to take sustainability from the classroom to the community through community service, internships or directed research. During the semester that the student is fulfilling this requirement the students must complete several reflection essays that allow them to think critically about the real-world connections with their community partners working toward sustainability. Another requirement of this immersive experience is to complete a social media project by creating a blog, post or video. This semester-long, immersive experience enhances the skills and knowledge of GW’s sustainability minors and acts as a “capstone” experience. Follow this link to view sustainability minors' testimonial about their culminating experiences: http://www.planetforward.org/media/webisodes/sustainability-a-minor-with-major-impact. The URL of the Sustainability minor: http://sustainability.gwu.edu/sustainability-minor

Graduate School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD)
Community-Engaged Teaching (CET) at GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development is an innovative teacher education preparation that links academically rigorous, university-based teacher education programming with community and school-based fieldwork. As part of this training, students in GSEHD participate in a service-learning project with Groundwork Anacostia River DC, an organization that fosters environmental restoration and sustainability in Washington, DC. Students are required to translate their service-learning experience into curriculum for use in the content areas in which they teach; develop skills as community video storytellers and create short films that represent their vision of community-engaged teaching; investigate theories of social justice education that help them bridge the classroom to the broader community; and work with master teachers in a variety of secondary school settings as they experience the diverse landscape of schooling in Washington, DC.

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
The GW Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) currently consists of student members from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, but membership is open to all disciplines. The current project involves the sustainable design and implementation of compost latrines in the village of La Peña, El Salvador, as well as training of local villagers. The students have conducted a number of implementation trips to El Salvador. The next project is the evaluation of safe water sources for the village.

School of Law
The Law School’s Environment and Energy Policy Practicum offers students the opportunity to work directly with client organizations on semester-long policy research projects. These projects frequently have a sustainability focus with organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, the World Resources Institute, the American Council on Renewable Energy, and the Solar Electric Industry Association of Virginia.

College of Professional Studies
The Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Landscapes features weekend residencies that alternate with online work. Students meet face-to-face for full weekends, several times per semester and spend that time in field and studio work. Fieldwork includes soils labs and guided exercises in area botanical gardens, native plant preserves and specialized nurseries. Field trips have taken classes as far as New York City to examine the social, environmental and economic impacts of projects like the High Line, and to the Delaware Valley. Studio sessions include design mentorship and pin-up critiques that guide students in introducing affordable, effective and sustainable methods of stormwater mitigation, biodiversity, and ecosystem services in their design work.

The Sustainable Urban Planning Program spring studio focuses on evaluating sustainable development practices in the metropolitan region of Seoul, Republic of Korea. The studio is conducted in partnership with the Korean Research Institute on Human Settlements (KRIHS) and finishes with a trip to Seoul, departing Washington, DC in late May and returning in early June. Korea is a worldwide leader in sustainable development practice, and Seoul is an ideal setting for a studio focused on the subject. The final product of the studio is a detailed set of presentations summarizing the research findings of GW that will be delivered to KRIHS at a workshop on the final afternoon in Seoul. Students receive feedback from KRIHS staff and other experts and KRIHS will publish the GW report as part of its Special Report or Planning and Policy series.

School of Medicine and Health Sciences
In 2004, the GW School of Medicine and Health Science, in conjunction with the nonprofit organization Project Medishare, established a partnership in an effort to improve health services and education to the community of Thomonde in the Central Plateau of Haiti. Students and faculty studying medicine, nursing, and public health embarked on nearly 15 week-long medical missions to Haiti. Students and faculty participants care for as many as 1,000 patients for a variety of health issues including malnutrition, respiratory diseases, and arthritis. These medical missions contextualize how poverty and inequity influence health and the challenges of disaster recovery.

Alternative Breaks Program
Over the past decade, students have created, led, and participated in service opportunities through the GW Alternative Breaks program offered by the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. GW Alternative Breaks’ mission is to empower students, staff and faculty to understand their role in local and global communities through service-learning trips across many issue areas. It is a student-focused, student-planned, and student-led immersive experience that takes place over winter and spring breaks. The goal is to foster personal reflection, social awareness and active citizenship among the GW community. All of the trips for GW Alternative Breaks consider social inequity and many trips have focused on specifically issues of environmental sustainability. In 2014, nearly 350 students participated in seven alternative winter and eleven spring break programs. Destinations include Costa Rica, Florida, Guatemala, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Kentucky, Cherokee Nation, Chicago, DC, Detroit, Ecuador, Gullah Nation, New York City, and the Philippines. Following are four examples:

1. Sustainable Disaster Relief in Tacloban, Philippines
As the program’s inaugural trip to Asia, students spent a week serving in the city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte. ASB Philippines works with the Global Peace Youth Corps to conduct sustainable rebuilding throughout the region hardest hit by the typhoon. While working to quickly rebuild homes and return a sense of safety to families in the community, students were dedicated to building in a sustainable way that better prepares the region for future storms and restores the area’s natural beauty. Participants had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the exciting history and culture of the Philippines by interacting with members of the community, both learning and teaching sustainable methods of rebuilding, and explore the beaches and markets of Tacloban.

2. Sustainability and Community Health in Los Santos, Costa Rica
The winter program in Costa Rica explored the issues of sustainability and community empowerment through a variety of activities. From the installation of eco-stoves in houses and working with youth in the community to exploration in the rainforest, this experience provided insight into the multiple facets of community service. Partnering with Green Communities Costa Rica, 10 GW students had the opportunity to lay the foundation for a lasting relationship with the communities they serve and the unique culture they experienced.

3. Sustainable Housing and Rural Poverty in Harlan County, KY
Students served in Harlan County, Kentucky, with COAP, an organization that has been working in Appalachia since the 1970s to provide quality, sustainable housing. Participants built and repaired homes for low-income families. At the same time, they learned about economic and social issues in Appalachia including rural poverty, unemployment, and environmental degradation.

4. Urban Farming and Community Empowerment in Chicago, IL
On this new Alternative Break to Chicago, students worked with Iron Street Farm to help promote sustainable urban farming and foster community empowerment. Students learned the ins and outs of sustainability in an urban setting, helping expand farms and building upon the site’s compost system, and exploring how Iron Street Farm employs at risk youth to develop community food systems and urban agriculture.

The website URL where information about the immersive program(s) is available:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution and complete the Data Inquiry Form.