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Sustainability Distinction Now Available for Undergraduates

The Office of the Provost has established a Sustainability Distinction, which adds to transcripts a credential signaling the student’s academic, community service and professional commitment to sustainability

This story originally appeared in Pittwire. Reposted with permission. 

Students have long been a driving force in advancing sustainability at Pitt. From food recovery efforts that have received national recognition, to the establishment of an on-campus thrift store, a bicycle-repair collective and bee houses, their creativity and energy enhances today’s campus culture and leaves a lasting legacy to benefit future generations of students.

Now, undergraduates can have their commitment and passion recognized with a new credential on their University transcript.

The Office of the Provost has established a Sustainability Distinction as part of its commitment to a personalized education for all Pitt students. The distinction adds to the range of opportunities for students to integrate their sustainability interests with their academic, community service and professional pursuits.

The Sustainability Distinction is the third in a series of interdisciplinary credentials that includes a Global Distinction and an Honors Distinction. To earn the distinction, students must complete course work and participate in relevant high-impact activities outside the classroom.

“This latest distinction is an important addition to the series. It provides a special way to recognize the dedication and outstanding work of Pitt students as they engage in efforts to protect and sustain the environment for us all,” said Joe McCarthy, vice provost of undergraduate studies. The sustainability Distinction has been in planning for more than a year, developed by a cross-disciplinary committee of faculty, staff and students themselves.

“This differentiates those who go above and beyond during their undergraduate education, said Gena Kovalcik, co-director of administration and external relations for Pitt’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, who coordinated the committee.

“Students do so much outside the classroom. They devote time and effort to benefit the community and to benefit Pitt. To be recognized in an official way on their transcript is special,” she said.

“This designation will give Pitt students the edge, beyond a good GPA and a quality degree.”

Students may declare their intention to pursue the sustainability distinction at any time, up until the add/drop deadline of the semester prior to the semester of their graduation. They can track their own progress toward the distinction online.

A committee representing the Student Affairs Office of PittServes, the Environmental Studies Program and the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation will oversee the credential and certify students’ successful completion.

Erika Ninos, sustainability program coordinator in the Office of PittServes, estimated that students will need two to three years to complete the sustainability distinction’s requirements.

“Many are already on their way, interning or employed in a sustainability-related position, or having taken sustainability-related courses,” she added.

“We want to let students know that we recognize that work. That they’ve put in the effort to make the University a better place,” she said.

She hopes the designation will attract other students who may not recognize how the activities they’re passionate about may contribute to campus sustainability, and motivate them to deeper involvement as they work to complete the requirements, once they see they’re also on their way.

“They know what it means to be involved in resale and reuse, or in community service or climate justice. They get it—but they don’t always make that connection,” she said.

“Sustainability is so broad and covers so many areas that for some students, it’s like, ‘Wow, I did not realize I did all this and this was part of the sustainability community,’” she said.

The designation also will signify to employers how students are integrating their interest in sustainability with their career plans.

Particularly for non-science majors, that connection is not always clear to outsiders, she said, citing urban studies as one major that is very relevant, but not always recognized as dovetailing with sustainability.

The University’s interdisciplinary transcript distinctions for undergraduates are quite uncommon, Ninos noted.

“Pitt is one of very few institutions that offers programs like these, and the use of the term ‘distinction’ is unique to Pitt,” she said.  

Students who hold these credentials demonstrate to future employers that they can apply their classroom knowledge in the real world, Ninos said.

“I think that Pitt students are very good at finding the experiences that are going to shape the person they’re going to become,” she said.

“Academics alone does not create a qualified young professional. Real-world experience matters. It’s a practical application of what you can do for an employer.”


Earning the Sustainability Distinction

To earn the Sustainability Distinction, students must:

  • Complete 9 credits of sustainability-related coursework.
  • Participate in at least three high-impact activities, such as: ­
    • holding a leadership role in a Student Office of Sustainability affiliated organization;
    • undertaking a long-term campus, community service or place-based engagement project;
    • engaging in a sustainability-related internship, research project, co-op, study-abroad or alternative break, or a sustainability-related innovation competition, experience or start-up.
  • Earn the Outside the Classroom Curriculum sustainability badge.
  • Write a 2,000-word essay reflecting on their experience and how it contributed to their personal and professional development.

Author: Author: Kimberly K. Barlow, University Communications