Penn State Digital Badges Acknowledge Students’ Work in Sustainability
The university’s SDG-BASE program recognizes the achievements of students who are working towards a sustainable future by awarding digital badges to those who complete coursework and extracurricular activities related to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In 2015, the United Nations member states adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at tackling global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice. The SDGs represent a call to action for individuals, organizations, and governments around the world to work towards a sustainable future. Now, a new program in the Penn State College of Engineering is seeking to highlight students’ skills and experiences in addressing the SDGs by awarding digital badges to students who complete coursework and extracurricular activities recognized as Sustainability Learning Experiences.
The SDG Badges for Sustainability Engineering program (SDG-BASE) was launched this spring and is managed by the Law, Policy, and Engineering initiative (LPE) within the School of Engineering Design and Innovation (SEDI), in collaboration with the Engineering Sustainability Council. Faculty register a course, research project, or extracurricular activity related to sustainability with the SDG-BASE program, which is then evaluated and matched with a relevant micro-credential badge. By completing the requirements identified by the instructor, students are awarded the digital badge through the Credly platform that they can then add to their resumes to share with future employers.
The program is open to engineering faculty across the commonwealth, as well as non-engineering faculty who are teaching or advising engineering students. Any undergraduate or graduate student interested in sustainability, regardless of their major, can participate. The program’s goal is to highlight curriculum offerings related to the SDGs, provide awareness of what the SDGs are, and acknowledge the extracurricular work students and faculty are already doing across these areas through their involvement in clubs and outreach activities.
SDG-BASE offers in-person learning experiences, such as mentored research, course components, or student organization work that focuses on sustainability, unlike other micro-credentialing programs that typically offer an online course or module that students complete on their own time. SDG-BASE launched six digital badges in its pilot program that correspond to six of the 17 SDGs, each with three possible achievement levels: exploring, exposure, or experience. Exploring “shows interest in gaining a foundational understanding” of one of the goals, according to the program website. Exposure shows civic engagement and leadership in raising awareness and taking action on a goal, while experience shows hands-on experience with stakeholders with designing, addressing, or evaluating real-world problems.
The program provides opportunities for students to pursue badges while doing their regular club activities, such as participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Collegiate Wind Competition or taking courses like Architectural Engineering 453: Load and Energy Use Simulations for Buildings. Students in AE 453, for example, will create an energy model of a building, propose energy-related design and operation alternatives, simulate those changes, and analyze the impact of those design and operational changes while learning about SDG 11: “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”
SDG-BASE plans to add additional badges corresponding to more SDGs as the program develops. Faculty are encouraged to join the program by registering relevant activities online. The badges that are awarded to students allow them to communicate their knowledge and experience in sustainability to future employers. SDG-BASE recognizes the importance of socially conscious engineering and the shared responsibility to protect our planet. Through the SDG-BASE program, Penn State is leading the way in fostering sustainability learning experiences and recognizing the achievements of students who are working towards a sustainable future.
Several academic institutions are implementing similar initiatives to recognize students’ sustainability learning experiences and skills through digital badges. Arizona State University has a program called the Sustainability Skills and Education (SuSE) Badge Program, which provides students with opportunities to engage in sustainability activities and earn badges that demonstrate their knowledge and skills in sustainability. The University of California, Berkeley also offers a Sustainability Engagement and Leadership (SEAL) program that recognizes students’ sustainability-related extracurricular activities with digital badges.
Recognizing students’ sustainability learning experiences and skills through digital badges is important at the academic level as it helps to promote awareness of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their importance in addressing global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice. By engaging in activities that align with the SDGs, students can develop a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of social, economic, and environmental issues and the need for integrated approaches to sustainable development.
Digital badges also provide a way for students to demonstrate their skills and experiences to potential employers, which can be particularly valuable in fields such as engineering and sustainability where there is growing demand for professionals with expertise in sustainable development. By earning badges that demonstrate their sustainability-related skills and experiences, students can differentiate themselves from their peers and increase their chances of finding employment in their desired field.
Finally, digital badges can help to foster a culture of sustainability on campus by recognizing and promoting sustainability-related activities and initiatives. By highlighting the sustainability-related work being done by students and faculty, academic institutions can inspire others to get involved and contribute to a more sustainable future.
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