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Environmental literacy improved

Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 09 - October 22, 1998

During spring semester 1998, the 951 students who enrolled in general chemistry laboratory were the first to encounter a new segment of the course titled "Environmental Chemistry and Issues." Developed by chemistry professor Jim Glanville, with assistance from laboratory supervisor Robert Russell and undergraduate student Ben Pumphrey, the segment included a three-week study based on the Talloires Declaration, together with the preparation of student reports on a variety of environmental issues.
The Talloires Declaration, drafted by an international group of university leaders in 1990, is a statement of concern about environmental issues, including a commitment to teaching environmental literacy to all undergraduates. James D. McComas, Virginia Tech president at that time, persuaded the entire Council of Presidents of public colleges and universities in Virginia to sign the declaration simultaneously in 1991.
After a working group on environmental literacy at Virginia Tech had reported in 1995, then-Special Assistant to the Provost David Conn approached several departments about the possibility of incorporating environmental content into their existing core classes. The intent was to expose as many undergraduate students as possible to environmental issues, without necessarily making substantial modifications to the core as a whole. The chemistry department agreed to proceed on a trial basis and amended its General Chemistry Laboratory Manual accordingly.
The spring 1998 trial has been carefully evaluated, resulting in a report authored by Glanville (available on the web at http://www.vt.edu:10021/admin/provost/env/chemrep). The report concludes that: "The Environmental Chemistry and Issues project was well received by the undergraduate students and their GTA's. Environmental literacy among undergraduate students has been substantially enhanced. Students have also learned or honed their report writing skills and their skills at using reference materials from the Internet and from the library. Plans are to continue Environmental Chemistry and Issues next year with only minor changes."