Teaching Sustainability Track 2

11 - 11:50 a.m.

SDGs and Community Engaged Learning
  • Gary Cocke Sustainability Director, UT Dallas

UT Dallas is connecting students to community service and utilizing UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide big-picture context to local leadership. This presentation will discuss how SDG-focused service-learning has been integrated into the curriculum through UNIV 3310 - Sustainable Development Goals and Local Action, where students have worked with Wylie ISD to reduce food waste and North Texas Food Bank to reduce food insecurity. We will also discuss how UTD students are serving the community and learning about SDGs through the co-curricular program Sustainability Service Honors. Finally, we will discuss future plans for sustainability-focused community-engaged learning for sustainability as adjustments are made for meaningful experiences in a post-COVID, virtual modality.

Gary has led the Office of Sustainability at UT Dallas since 2018 and serves as co-coordinator for RCE North Texas. Gary holds a master's in biology with a concentration in ecology and conservation from Texas Christian University (TCU) and has previous experience in higher education and municipal government sustainability leadership. At UTD, he is responsible for facilitating the integration of sustainability into academics, student life, operations and administration and monitoring campus sustainability efforts through the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) Report. Gary also leads regional sustainability through the North Texas Regional Centre for Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCE North Texas), which aims to bridge silos and foster cooperative efforts between higher education, government, private sector and nonprofit to address regional sustainability issues more effectively.

2–2:55 p.m.

Regional Center of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
  • Meghna Tare Chief Sustainability Officer, UT Arlington and RCE North Texas

In 2003, in response to the UN resolution on the UNDESD, the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) launched the ESD project, including a global multi-stakeholder network of the Regional Centers of Expertise on ESD (RCEs).

RCE North Texas is a network of 75 multidisciplinary stakeholders, including higher education institutions, businesses, non-governmental organizations, community associations and local, regional, state and federal government agencies. The North Texas RCE comprises the 16 counties of North Texas. Our region has grown dramatically over the past 40 years, with growth projections indicating a more than doubling in population size from the current 7.2 million residents by the year 2050. In this rapid growth scenario, how will North Texas fare and grow sustainably as it confronts exploding population projections and associated environmental, economic and social challenges? At this pivotal moment for North Texas, RCE will be an influencer in the community as cities expand, providing the resources to maximize the potential economic opportunity that well-managed communities can offer and be a conduit for transformative education in North Texas. We are focused on the following SDGs, deemed priority for our region: Good Health and Well-Being (3); Quality Education (4); Sustainable Cities and Communities (11).

As UT Arlington's first Chief Sustainability Officer, Meghna works collaboratively to foster partnerships among academic, research and operational departments at UT Arlington. She leads institutional sustainability efforts in support of the UT Arlington 2020 Strategic Plan, “Bold Solutions | Global Impact.” That plan is enabling a sustainable megacity that centers on four themes: health and the human condition, sustainable urban communities, global environmental impact and data-driven discovery. She also works to address opportunities to promote sustainability in energy efficiency, resource conservation, waste management, transportation, education, outreach, community engagement, supporting and encouraging student initiatives and implementing an interdisciplinary and sustainability-focused curriculum.

Meghna serves and represents UTA on several Advisory Boards including the National Academy of Science Board on Higher Education and Workforce Development—Policy and Global Affairs, Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), and is a Fellow at Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity at Southern Methodist University. She has also served on the Advisory Committee for the City of Dallas Environmental and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), National Academy of Sciences Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) panel and the Water Resource Council of North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).

3–3:55 p.m.

Pivot in Place: Virtual Outreach and Engagement During a Pandemic
  • Judy Schmidt Marketing and Communications Manager, City of Dallas & Helen Dulac – Environmental Coordinator, City of Dallas
  • Helen Dulac Environmental Coordinator, City of Dallas

This presentation will share the methods, tools and techniques that the City of Dallas Environmental Quality and Sustainability (DEQS) Outreach and Engagement team created and used to continue their mission to enthusiastically empower Dallas to save the world during a pandemic.

To reach out to summer camps, the team created catalogs for recreation centers, day cares and home-schoolers to use to select virtual environmental topics for children. The sessions align with our focus areas and include a low-cost, low-waste children’s activity. The catalog was expanded to include stories for younger children to be more inclusive.

Before the pandemic, DEQS and the Dallas Public Library (DPL) Humanities coordinated an adult, environmental education summer series across multiple branch libraries covering our different environmental focus areas. When we could not meet in person, the DPL started DPL at Home to continue programming virtually. We were able to move our programs online with the moniker, Earth Day Every Day (EDED). Plus, we forged a new partnership with the Dallas Seed Library for another series called Grow with Us (GWU), focusing on urban agriculture and gardening.

The team had minimal experience with virtual learning. The DPL supplied the online platform and the technical assistance so our team could focus on the content and execution. DPL provided registration and, eventually, recordings of all the sessions. For three months, we had weekly, biweekly or even triweekly programming that delivered awareness, knowledge, skill and/or action. As the team’s confidence grew, so did the complexity of the sessions. Sessions went from a PowerPoint to including video, adding a hands-on activity, multiple presenters, multiple settings/locations and numerous activities.

Over time, we learned which topics were popular and how to freely market the sessions to increase registration. We learned to take advantage of every opportunity to reach our audience. We sent messages into the waiting room listing and linking upcoming programs, shared stormwater information, DEQS and LIB websites, services and contact information. To close the loop with our participants, we started offering thank you gifts to anyone attending the EDED sessions. To get to better know and understand our audience, we created a simple Zoom poll with the GWU series. This led to a short survey sent out with recording to gather satisfaction, topic ideas, marketing data and attendee locations.

The GWU series was the most popular and very relevant due to COVID-19. DPL extended it through the end of the calendar year, along with EDED. GWU features expert guest speakers and alternated from DIY to featuring local green or urban agriculture companies and nonprofits. EDED will use the same approach. The popularity of our sessions attracted the attention of groups and organizations that booked us for membership training or educational seminar ranging from serious to fun.

At this time, we’ve completed 22 sessions reaching a total of 1,000 people. This team is charged to meet 180 specific outreach mandates that are reported to federal and state agencies. It may be a long, long time before things return to normal, but if we deliver fun, engaging programming, we can continue to meet our responsibilities and drive behavior change.

We also established a Social Media series of posts and blogs. The first was 50 Days of Earth Day and environmental topics led the way. Again, these topics coordinated with our focus areas, but we also offered to include messages from other environmental teams from throughout City Hall. The posts began April 22 and continued until July 1. Earth Day was so different with everything getting canceled. The planet had spoken and celebrated in its own way, and we had to put on our work boots and follow suit or be left behind. We are striding right along and the results are encouraging.

Judy Schmidt is the Marketing and Communications Manager for the City of Dallas’ Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability. She worked for Trinity Watershed Management for 10 years.


Helen C. Dulac has been with the City of Dallas for 17 years and with Dallas’ Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability since 2014. She’s been involved with sustainability, outreach and now urban agriculture.