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Planning and Implementing the New Aalto-Wide Sustainability Minor – A Major Achievement!

Aalto’s cross-disciplinary, sustainability-focused minor, ‘Sustainable Use of Natural Resources’ is a culmination of more than a year of planning and creative collaboration among faculty. 
Minor development team participates in minor planning meeting

The Aalto sustainability minor process began with a team of representatives from all six schools. After the initial phase of drafting the aims, key topics and courses, the original team continues – joined along the way by several more committed teachers. The Aalto Co-Educator team, made up of experts in pedagogy, sustainability, teamwork, entrepreneurship and radical creativity, supports the minor development process and provides valuable feedback for ongoing development. 

Upon starting the project, the team quickly agreed that the complexity of sustainability challenges required a multidisciplinary approach. Although the inception of the project was to create a ‘sustainability minor’, the evolution into a university-wide minor was intentional, providing both teachers and students the opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration. It is recognised that graduates make influential and often challenging decisions early in their careers. For those decisions to be informed and sustainability-driven, the minor needs to prepare them with a broad field of topics. 

Camilla Vornanen-Winqvist, from the School of Engineering, leads the minor development project. Although she doesn’t consider herself a sustainability expert, with the help of her colleagues, her goal is to equip students with field-specific sustainability competences. She shares, ‘Sustainability is a natural fit in civil engineering, but I’ve also enjoyed stepping outside my regular subject area to view sustainability via the perspective of other fields.’  

According to Vornanen-Winqvist, a rewarding part of the process is leading a team of dedicated ‘regulars’ who volunteer their time and unique mindsets to develop the minor. She explains, ‘My role has been to move the process forward by listening carefully and distilling robust discussions into practical outcomes.’ 

When asked about her views on cross-collaborative development she offers, ‘Strengths and weaknesses can be compensated when you cooperate with other teachers. When you feel alone in teaching, you might be tempted to ask external speakers to supplement your teaching, but it’s also important to tap into the potential inside the university as well.’ 

Strengths and weaknesses can be compensated when you cooperate with other teachers.

Camilla Vornanen-Winqvist

Building a minor within a single school or department has its challenges, but undertaking such a process across all six schools introduces a distinct complexity. Such a project demands unique processes and high levels of commitment and communication from all involved. 

Jani-Petri Martikainen is a core team member and valuable contributor from the School of Science. He created a brand-new elective course for the minor entitled ‘Fundamentals of Saving the World: A Physics Perspective.' Martikainen shares, ‘I would like our students to not only learn how to save the world but also expand their critical thinking skills.’  

After reflecting on takeaways from the process thus far, he says, ‘The process of building a minor across schools is more than putting together a collection of existing courses… It also touches upon teaching development. Careful coordination, discussion and trust between schools is key.’

Another energetic meeting regular is Jaan Praks from the School of Electrical Engineering. He feels compelled to act on the matter because he considers sustainability to be the biggest single challenge confronting human civilization. When asked about his thoughts on essential skills educators need to participate in such a planning process, he shares, ‘The curiosity to understand how the world works and the ability to adjust our belief-based system to a knowledge-based system. This takes a lot of listening and learning from all involved parties.’  

The finer details of the minor are currently being crafted, with a confirmed launch in Autumn 2024. The cross-disciplinary, sustainability-focused minor is a logical step in Aalto University's strategic integration of its cross-cutting themes – solutions for sustainability, radical creativity and entrepreneurial mindset.

Teachers collaborating on project

Top Tips for Developing a Cross-Disciplinary Minor

Thinking about developing a minor? Check these key insights gathered from participants during the development of the new Aalto-wide sustainability minor, 'Luonnonvarojen kestävä käyttö/ Sustainable Use of Natural Resources.'

Sustainability
Students sitting around a table with laptops and discussing.

Aalto Co-Educator Team (ACE)

All Aalto graduates should have the capability to analyse and tackle complex sustainability challenges especially related to their own field, and to grasp opportunities for making a change.

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