Learning Conservation and Sustainable Development: An Interdisciplinary Approach
Conservation aud sustainable development (CSD) represent one of the most important new ways of thinking in natural resource management and policy. Cornell University has developed an iuterdisciplinary graduate minor to include this approach in its curriculum. The concept of CSD involves working toward environmental, social, and economic goals simultaneously. Although sustainability is sometimes criticized as a vague concept, CSD can be operationalized by developing indicators for different goals through collaborative processes, and seeking positive sum solutions that, while not fully solving problems of sustainability, make concrete advances across these indicators. The graduate minor at Cornell University provides students with CSD concepts and skills through: (i) a core course, "Critical Issues in Conservation and Sustainable Development," which emphasizes the conceptual underpinnings of CSD and experience working in interdisciplinary groups to apply these concepts to case studies; (ii) a "Field Practicum in Conservation and Sustainable Development," which provides an interdisciplinary, team problem-solving experience in Latin America; and (iii) elective courses that provide students with interdisciplinary breadth, rather than the depth fostered by traditional minors. Students have found that the CSD minor helps them situate their research in the context of practical environmental management and policy problems, and provides them with skills to manage complex relationships with practitioners and local communities during research.