Environmental Sustainability

Ecology, Policy, and Social Transformation

Apply systems thinking and sustainability theory to real world cases. Partner with organizers transforming communities and restoring ecosystems.

Program Structure

Class meets twice a week for seminar-style discussion. A number of field visits supplement the classroom seminars, in particular several excursions to a local farm, where students have the option of earning a Permaculture Design Certificate. Students begin work at their internship placement sites during the second week of class, and can expect to spend 20 hours per week at their site.

Topics & Themes

Sustainability science and practice, climate change and climate justice, environmental justice issues in poor urban and rural communities, the urban agriculture revolution and re-greening cities, ecology and permaculture design.


Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, MN

Terms & Dates

Fall 2017: September 5 – December 15, 2017; Fall 2018: September 5 – December 12, 2018


16 credits

Staff and Faculty

Sam Grant

Program Director

Sam Grant, M.S./M.A. is a life–long organizer, who has constantly worked on the intersections of cultural, economic, and environmental justice. He co–founded the following organizations: AfroEco, Full Circle Community Institute, Organizing Apprenticeship Project, the Wendell Phillips Community Development Federal Credit Union, the Green Institute Eco-Industrial Park, Grassroots Public Policy Institute, among others. He has been on faculty at Metropolitan State University since 1990, and has trained social justice facilitators around the world. He is certified in Human Systems Dynamics and Permaculture Design.

Sam’s approach to teaching and learning with HECUA students:

I’ve always approached education from a partnership model. We are learning together. I commit to being an open and aware facilitator of multi-level learning in community.

Collectively and personally, we will attend to:

1) Why and how is the subject matter directly relevant to each student’s life experiences and worldview?

2) What is similar and different about the meaning we bring to and make of the subject matter?

3) How can we advance theory and support practice that improves the quality of life of the communities whose realities we discuss in class?

I start in a circle with questions and dialogue to bring forth what to focus on together. I use short “Ted talk”-like lectures to offer some perspective on what we have been reading and doing. I use a mix of participatory and popular education exercises to set and sustain the atmosphere of deep and transformative cooperative learning. All of my courses engage students in the world in order to learn-in-action.

Louis Alemayehu

Community Faculty

Louis Alemayehu is a writer, educator, activist, poet, father, grandfather of African and Native American heritage. He facilitates workshops on racism, culture, environmental justice and community building. His writing has appeared in national and international publications such as The International Process Work Journal, DRUM and the Energy Bulletin. Louis is a cofounder of the Native Arts Circle, the oldest Native American artists organization in the Upper Midwest. Alemayehu was a founding member of the poetry/jazz ensemble Ancestor Energy. In 1993 he was awarded a LIN (Leadership in Neighborhoods) Grant from Saint Paul Companies as a community based artist. In 2003 the Headwaters Foundation gave Louis an award for life-long commitment to social justice.

Alemayehu’s work focuses on teaching, writing, mentorship, community organizing, and Transitions related initiatives. Louis works deeply across multiple cultural communities with the North American Water Office, whose mission is to phase in modern renewable energy and energy efficiency systems and technologies, and phase out abusive energy practices. He also works with with Ce Tempoxcalli for Chicano cultural arts and environmental justice; with AfroEco for food security and reclamation of African/African American environmental wisdom and connection to the land; with Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota for urban agriculture, youth development, green economics and health disparities; with Multicultural Indigenous Academy for intercultural education; and with the Women’s Environmental Institute on health disparities and food justice.

In 2009 the Minnesota Spoken Word Association gave Alemayehu an Urban Griot award for 30 years of excellence as a pioneering spoken word artist. In 2010 Louis became an associate of the Dendros Group, the base from which he facilitates Transitions Workshops as a certified trainer within Transitions-US. In 2011 the Process Work Institute in Portland Oregon certified Louis as a “World Work Elder.”  In 2012 Alemayehu’s poem and spoken word performance of Akhenaten’s Dream provided the narrative for the Heart of the Beast Puppet & Mask Theater’s 38th May Day Festival.

Emily Seru

Manager of Internships and Community Partnerships

Emily Seru is a seasoned experiential education facilitator, community programs innovator, and internship guide in the Twin Cities social justice community. She actively listens and learns from HECUA’s community partners, students, and faculty members to draw out connections and possibilities for shared learning, growth, and work. In addition to leading the internship coursework and partnerships for HECUA’s Twin Cities programs, she has led three distinct grant funded programs that engaged students in project-based work to support local grassroots initiatives: The Graduate Fellowship in Philanthropy and Human Rights, the Partners Internship Program, and the Central Corridor Internship Program. Emily earned her BA in English with a minor in History from Lewis and Clark College and is currently pursuing her MS in Experiential Education at Minnesota State University. Her previous work included fundraising, grants management, volunteer cheerleading, and community outreach for the the Headwaters Foundation for Justice and Milkweed Editions, and years of buying and selling books.  Emily is a longtime resident and community leader in the Frogtown neighborhood of Saint Paul where she lives and plays with her husband, son, dog, cat, and the occasional mouse.


Inequality in America: Policy, Community, and the Politics of Empowerment

Environmental Sustainability: Ecology, Policy, and Social Transformation

Art for Social Change: Intersections of Art, Identity, and Advocacy


Environmental and Climate Justice (4 credits)

In the twenty-first century, the environmental century, human beings must decide how to deal with the many planetary consequences of the “Great Acceleration” and its conjunction with the 500-year pattern of conquest, genocide, and extreme social marginalization of indigenous peoples and poor peoples of color. As we consider how to respond to climate change, restore degraded ecosystems, and promote a sustainable quality of life in human settlements, how might we do this in an environmentally just approach? This is the basic question to be explored in this course, in light of the past record of the inequitable distribution and accumulated disadvantage resulting from historical environmental behavior in societies and global civilization as a whole.

Ecology and Socio-Ecological Systems Change (4 credits)

Since our original hunter-gatherer communities, humans have had an impact, sometimes quite negative, on our environment. What is different now, since the “Great Acceleration” that began in the mid-twentieth century, is that our environmental impacts are global in scope and potentially catastrophic in scale. Learning to become ecologically wise is thus a priority for all of humanity in the twenty-first century. Socio-ecology seeks to bridge the natural science/social science divide through transdisciplinary theory and practice by examining how social and natural systems interact, co-evolve over time, and have impacts on one another. This course integrates questions regarding sustainability challenges of water, forest, wetland, climate, soil, with those involving people, cultures, politics, and economy in a comprehensive, integral framework. This investigation builds students’ ability to see complex dynamics more clearly, and prepares students to be part of efforts to create ecologically wise policy and practices for a more sustainable future.

Field Research Methods and Investigation (4 credits)

The Field Methods course provides students with practical socio-technical skills to assess and improve ecosystems and improve human decision-making in socio-ecological systems. We use a text by Bill Mollison, a founder of permaculture, to learn how to work with nature to improve ecological, communal, and personal health simultaneously. This course is designed to help students develop the capacity for constant and consistent ecological thinking, in order to participate in wise and effective decision-making at the interface of the human and natural worlds. All field-based learning in the course takes place in partnership with community organizations and branches of government that are working actively as ecological stewards and promoting sustainability of human society and specific settlements with wise design. We learn and apply conceptual, organizational, and technical skills to help our community and institutional partners in this process.

Environmental Sustainability Internship (4 credits)

The Environmental Sustainability Internship provides concentrated practice, and facilitates student learning on many levels. Students integrate and refine their theoretical understanding, build and develop skills, gain a greater understanding of methods of social change, and grow in their understanding of career possibilities. Through facilitated reflection, written assignments, and activities that include time at another student’s internship site, the internship experiences are carefully integrated with the other courses. Students work a minimum of 160 hours at their placement, 12-15 hours each week for thirteen weeks of the program.

Complete Syllabus


Below are details of a few recently completed internships and projects. Note that internship sites can change semester to semester in response to the needs of local organizations, and when possible, in response to the specific interests of students in the program.

Friends of the Mississippi River

Website: http://www.fmr.org/

FMR is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing the Mississippi River and its watershed in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Through education, outreach and advocacy, they protect water quality, conserve vital land along the river and tributaries, and foster a sense of place that is rooted in the unique ecological, cultural, historical, scenic, and recreational assets of the Mississippi. The HECUA student led large-scale outdoor volunteer events along the Mississippi River. She spent the colder months managing FMR’s social media outreach and education efforts, editing photos for the website, and writing the volunteer evaluation report.

Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture

Website: http://www.misa.umn.edu

MISA is a partnership of the University of Minnesota’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and the Sustainers’ Coalition. Their main program is the organic student farm located on the Saint Paul campus of the U of M. The mission of the farm is to steward a student-managed, organic, sustainable farm that provides food, a place for community building, multidisciplinary education, research and outreach. The HECUA student working here learned about organic farming by working on the farm completing tasks such as harvesting crops for market, covering crops, and saving seeds. She helped to market and sell the produce at the Student Organic Farm’s market.

Youth Farm and Market Project

Website: http://youthfarm.net/

Youth Farm & Market Project is about youth gardening, cooking, nutrition, and entrepreneurship. It’s about youth connecting to their food and the environment – YFMP youth currently farm 9 garden sites – over 2 acres of urban land in Minneapolis and St. Paul. YFMP is bringing quality healthy food to urban neighborhoods and exploring culinary traditions from around the world – cooking and distributing over 11,000 pounds of fresh, local produce. YFMP works with almost 500 youth ages 9-13 and employs 25 teens as interns during the school year and youth staff during the summer program. One HECUA student conducted a community food assessment using community based research methods. She planned and created interviews about Youth Farm’s food distribution process, collected and analyzed data, and contributed to the final report for the community and for the project funders. The second HECUA student ran an after-school gardening and cooking class for youth.

Sierra Club North Star Chapter

Website: http://minnesota.sierraclub.org

The Sierra Club is America’s oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. The North Star Chapter is one of the Club’s oldest, recently celebrating our 40th anniversary of helping to preserve and protect the environment in Minnesota. They do this through both educational programs and political activism. One HECUA student worked with event planning for the 10/10/10 event and Climate Solutions Revolution, organized volunteers, and worked to promote events through phone banking, email blasts, and letters to the editor. Another student worked on the Campus Beyond Coal campaign, tabling at events and building further connections with student groups on the University of Minnesota campus.

Program Costs

Fee Breakdown:

All USA semester-long programs are based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. USA semester program fees include tuition, nearly all reading materials, some field visits (including meals while traveling), and tickets to events and opportunities associated with the program.

More information regarding program costs and fee breakdowns can be found here.

Group A schools

Students from the University of Minnesota pay $8,900.

Group B schools

Students from all member* and affiliate member schools except Augustana University, Denison University, and the University of Minnesota pay $13,500. 

*unDACAmented students from Augsburg College receive a $2,100 scholarship from Augsburg, bringing their total semester cost to $15,775 to participate in one of HECUA’s Twin Cities programs.

Group C schools

Students from Denison University and nonmember schools pay $14,300.

Although a HECUA member, Denison has opted to apply its member discount to a grant program dedicated to assisting low-income Denison students who wish to participate in a HECUA program.

Good to Know

This course gives students the opportunity to earn a Permaculture Design Certificate, if they choose to complete a permaculture project at a local farm.

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