How Undergraduate Programs Can Advance Interdisciplinarity and Connect to Practice

Business students shouldn’t have to wait until graduate school to become engaged in sustainability. An undergraduate certificate program created a network of change agents.

This session was part of the NBS Sustainability Centres Community (SCC) Workshop 2021. The SCC connects business school sustainability centres worldwide.  

Everyone who has taught undergraduates knows that they have spirit and energy. How can universities support them in making a difference?

This Workshop session showed the approach of the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute, a dual-degree business and sustainability program at the University of Michigan. For 25 years, the Erb Institute has served graduate students who pursue an MBA and an MS.

 In 2020, the Erb Institute launched an undergraduate certificate program focused on the intersection of business and sustainability. These Erb Fellows participate in curricular offerings, co-curricular learning opportunities, and community engagement.

“We want to build community, foster connections among alumni and graduate students, develop career competencies and create transformative action-based learning opportunities,” said Emily Keeler (University of Michigan), one of the session leaders.

During the session, faculty and staff from Erb described the challenges, resources used, and successes of the first year of the Erb certificate program, as well as best practices.

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Lessons for Undergraduate Sustainability Programs

Session leaders shared these core takehomes:

  • Research and benchmarking can create administrative buy-in around student desire for this program

  • Student leadership roles can result in successful, innovative programming

  • Students want action-based learning opportunities

  • Departments across campus can support these efforts

About the SCC Workshop 2021

Every two years, the NBS Sustainability Centres Community Workshop connects leaders of business school sustainability centres for learning and action. This session was a part of the most recent Workshop in July 2021: “Designing the Business School Sustainability Centre of the Future.” See the main Workshop page for an overview and to access additional sessions.

The 2021 Workshop was hosted by the Center for Sustainability Transformation and Responsibility (STaR) at the Vienna University of Economics and Business and the Institute for Business Ethics and Sustainable Strategy (IBES) at the FH Wien University of Applied Sciences for Management & Communication.

See the Sustainability Centres Community homepage for additional information and to join the group.

Banner photo is taken by Marius Brand of WU Vienna, who gave us a great sense of what our conference would have felt like in Vienna, had it not been virtual.

About the Session Leaders

Sara Soderstrom, University of Michigan

Sara Soderstrom is an Associate Professor in Organizational Studies & Program in the Environment at University of Michigan (UM). She is core faculty at the Erb Institute and faculty associate at Center for Positive Organizations at UM. Sara completed her PhD at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Erb Institute at UM. Prior to her graduate work, Sara worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company and led a business transformation team at Auto Club Group. Sara’s research aims to contribute an organizational perspective on how society develops solutions to critical global sustainability challenges. Sara studies how individuals within organizations mobilize others, develop coalitions, and access key decision makers when they are trying to implement sustainability initiatives. She has published in numerous management journals including Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal, Organization & Environment and Organization Studies.

Emily Keeler, University of Michigan

Emily Keeler is responsible for enhancing the learning experience of Erb’s dual-degree students with business sustainability content, including short-term projects and multi-year collaborations with companies and nonprofit partners in the U.S. and abroad. As the Student Affairs and Alumni Manager, she provides student support through ongoing advising, programming, and co-curricular and academic planning. Emily is responsible for increasing the quality and diversity of the Erb student body across industries, sustainability issue areas and global experience, as well as supporting the network of over 450 Erb alumni. In addition, together with the Managing Director, Emily also teaches Erb Seminar, a required course for all first-year students.

Kourtney Koch, University of Michigan

Kourtney Koch serves as the Student & Alumni Affairs Coordinator for the Erb Institute at the University of Michigan, acting as the primary point of contact for Erb Institute students, prospectives, alumni, and others. Kourtney also supports the expansion of Erb Institute offerings to a campus-wide population of sustainability-minded students, including those in both graduate and undergraduate degree programs. She has a Master’s in Higher Education Administration with a background in hospitality and community engagement work.

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