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 2018: September 5 – December 12, 2018


16 credits

Program Overview

Environmental Sustainability students learn how and why environmental burdens are inequitably distributed and explore the work of communities organizing for radical, lasting change. At the heart of the program lies a fundamental question: “How can we restore ecosystems, environmental health, and good quality of life for all?” Throughout the semester students consider the concepts of “earth care,” “people care,” and care of the future.

Coursework is interdisciplinary and includes field research, a project-based internship, conversations with innovators in the field of sustainability, and a substantial partnership with a permaculture farm in Wisconsin. Students may choose to receive a permaculture design certificate by completing an additional project.

The program explores structural inequalities in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and beyond, examining patterns of privilege, power, and oppression. Students take part in environmental justice organizing, ecosystems restoration, urban and rural sustainability initiatives, and complete an intensive internship. Past internship sites include Breaking Bread Cafe, MN350, the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, and Lily Springs Farm. Students leave prepared for leadership at the intersection of environmental and climate justice.

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.

Emily Seru

Director of U.S. Programs and Community Engagement

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

Hindolo Pokawa

Community Faculty 

As a child in Sierra Leone, Hindolo Pokawa experienced the brutal violence, economic destruction, and social disintegration of civil war. After finishing high school as an adult in Zimbabwe, where he fled once the war escalated, he later entered the United States on a student visa and earned his undergraduate degree in Political Science and Global Studies, with a Minor in African-African American Studies, focusing on Peace and Governance. As the Founder and Executive Director of the Sierra Leone Foundation for New Democracy, Hindolo’s role has been to build local communities’ capacity to see themselves as part of the solution to socio-economic problems, producers of knowledge, and agents of change. Hindolo is a 2018-20 ZERO TO THREE Fellow.

Lindsay Rebhan

A Certified Permaculture Designer, Ecological Design Partner and ecological consultant, Lindsay Rebhan is passionate about seeing land alive with life, employment, learning and nourishment. A specialist in land use, land design and land management, Lindsay works with farmers, food nonprofits and organizations to increase the ecological, human, animal and economic wealth of land over time. A graduate of Environmental Studies at the University of St. Thomas, Lindsay studied food systems and culture in Bangladesh, Cuba and Guatemala. She is a former Program Director at Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate, a Program Coordinator at Renewing the Countryside and a speaker on land regeneration issues. Lindsay has worked with Lily Springs Farm since the project started four years.

Drew Slevin

Drew is the on site Farm Manager at Lily Springs Farm. He farms, manages farm staff and community relations. Drew manages the livestock, guiding the prescribed grazing and agroforestry on the farm, as well as the perennial fruit, vegetables and pasture. Drew oversees the farm team responsibilities including Event Coordination, Education Programming and Community Partnerships. Drew is passionate about regenerative agriculture, healing the land and healing our bodies. If he’s not working, he’s hanging with his sweet dogs Pete and Ringo, practicing kung-fu, riding his bike, playing guitar, birding or mushroom hunting.

Paula Westmoreland

Founder of Ecological Design, published author of This Perennial Land: Third Crop, Blue Earth and Road to Restorative Agriculture. She has been a permaculture designer since 2001. Paula really loves staying focused on two things: healing the land and healing the relations of people and land. We bring the land and our selves.  back to life in a regenerative way with healing design. Paula loves connecting with people from divers backgrounds, and cultures to engage in cutting edge collaborative problem-solving.


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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