HomeIonE EducatorIntegrating social action and creativity: Linda Buturian, IonE Educator

Integrating social action and creativity: Linda Buturian, IonE Educator

Meet Linda Buturian, a member of the 2018 cohort of IonE Educators. A senior teaching specialist in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) and author of The Changing Story: Digital Stories that Participate in Transforming Teaching & Learning, Buturian plans to use her 14-month term to create new curricula for a course that will integrate sustainability action and creativity for educators. She also hopes to gather CEHD faculty, staff, and students with passions for integrating sustainability in order to explore establishing a framework for a sustainability initiative within the college. In the conversation below, Buturian further explains the goals of her work.

Why are the goals of your fellowship project significant?

My experience teaching undergraduates about the connections between stories, creativity, and social action reveal that most students love and care about the natural world and understand that they are inheriting challenges, including global warming and resource depletion. Students need more learning experiences that are applied and responsive to sustainability issues in diverse disciplines including the humanities and education: learning that fosters their understanding of sustainability topics as well as provides them with opportunities to use their academic knowledge to effect positive social change.

As for establishing a framework for a sustainability initiative, CEHD is the third largest college on the Twin Cities campus. The departments and centers address diverse aspects of education and human development. As our understanding deepens regarding the interconnectedness of our communities with the natural world, it would be beneficial to collectively shape our vision for teaching and learning around these issues.

What drives you to integrate sustainability into your work?

My 20 years of teaching students in the humanities reveal that most of them have a keen sense of justice, and they approach complex problems in connective, transdisciplinary ways until that is drummed out of them. Many already are committed to understanding sustainability issues, whether they are familiar or not with the term, and they act on that commitment by making choices such as becoming a vegetarian in response to learning about large scale factory farming and carbon and water footprints, or by contacting the manager of the block apartment they are renting from when they discover there is no system for recycling.

Other students who are not yet aware of sustainability issues become engaged when introduced to them, and their natural inclination is to make changes and learn more.  It is incumbent upon us as educators, given how pervasive and intersectional environmental challenges are, to address these issues and provide models of solutions that our communities and country as well as others are utilizing. Providing students with interactive, experiential learning opportunities that empower them to work collaboratively and in positive, creative ways generates hope and equips them to navigate these challenges.

At home most days I walk along the Spirit River, (Dakota name, Wakpa Wakon, generally referred to as the Rum River), which runs along our land. I’ve been doing this for 20 years.  When I am at work I walk along the Mississippi River. These rivers inspire me to bring what rivers offer and need into the classroom, and to bring students to the rivers.

What do you wish more people understood about sustainability education?

It is as near to you as the screen you are reading this through, the clothes on your back, the trees out your window, and the water that flows through your body into the soil and back into the rivers, lakes and oceans. Sustainability education connects us to each other, other beings, and to the natural lands we depend on for our lives, as well as to the past, present and future.

The way forward involves revisiting the past.  Environmental sustainability is often defined as living in a way that provides future generations with access to the natural resources they will need. Given that the land we are having these conversations on belonged to Indigenous people and was stolen from them, involving their forcible removal, and not that long ago, then our sustainability education should include working toward a Land Acknowledgement, which could hopefully further our collaborations with relevant tribes so that we could work together toward more sustainable futures.

What does being a part of the IonE community mean to you?

Sustainability education tends to attract people who embrace connective, collaborative approaches to solving complex problems. The people may be deeply specified in their research and teaching, yet they know that challenges including access to clean water, the survival of certain species, and the dislocation of climate refugees depend on transdisciplinary approaches to discovering solutions.

At our first IonE Educators meeting and in subsequent salons and meetings, I felt this kinship, energy, and vitality. Whether I was talking with an IonE staff member, a chemist, ecologist, social scientist, or artist, we were engaging in a shared mission, and with an understanding that collaboration is essential in moving our societies towards more sustainable futures.


Grace Becker is the Communications Assistant at the Institute on the Environment and an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota, where she studies Strategic Communications and Spanish.

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