Sustainability and climate literacy module added to first-year orientation

Campus Sustainability Office September 14, 2020

A member of the class of 2024 at Cornell is welcomed to campus by Vice President Ryan Lombardi during move-in. | Photo: Cornell University


Mission Sustainability.  That is the name of the module the class of '24 and transfer students completed as part of first-year student orientation this Fall as part of Cornell's efforts to embed sustainability into the educational and co-curricular experience of all students and ensure climate and sustainability literacy.

Making of a module

After identifying student climate literacy as a key metric to advance in its first year, the Sustainable Cornell Council’s Education & Engagement Committee began working to write, develop, and implement Cornell’s first climate literacy module for incoming students last Spring.  

This sustainability course includes four parts: a literacy survey, a 13-minute video, a campus sustainability resources page, and a short written response. The components were designed to gauge student knowledge of sustainability and climate change before classes started, introduce students to the many ways Cornell is leading sustainable change on campus and in the world, and invite students to consider ways to take action as a Cornell student.

Members of a working group from the committee worked to identify a diverse set of voices from Cornell's faculty, staff, and student body to talk about their experiences working on sustainability and climate change issues at the University for the video module. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire module and video was directed, shot, and compiled remotely by students and staff working across the country from their homes.

See the module in action

Anyone can access the module, which takes about 30 minutes to complete.  

Mission Sustainability: Cornellians Address the Climate Crisis 
Sustainability and climate change literacy open course, Cornell University

Measuring climate change literacy, and providing useful information

The resulting product - Mission Sustainability: Cornellians Address the Climate Crisis - was required of all incoming students as part of their To Do List.  

As of September 13th, 2020, 3,250 first-year and transfer students completed the module.  With 3,2961 new students and 5492  transfer students welcomed to campus this Fall, the module had an 85% completion rate in the first year of launch. 

Students will have dozens of upcoming events this fall to continue building on the module.

The literacy survey will give the Education & Engagement committee baseline data by which to compare exiting seniors' climate and sustainability literacy, thereby more closely measuring the efficacy of Cornell's many sustainability and climate change education programs. 

In addition, a sample size of new students will be asked to complete a follow-up survey in the spring to see how well Cornell provides students with the tools they need to learn about climate change and sustainability during the first year.