Environmental Sustainability

Program Structure

Class meets twice a week for seminar-style discussion. A number of field visits supplement the classroom seminars, in particular several excursions to a local farm, where students have the option of earning a Permaculture Design Certificate. Students begin work at their internship placement sites during the second week of class, and can expect to spend 12-15 hours per week at their site.

Topics & Themes

Sustainability science and practice, climate change and climate justice, environmental justice issues in poor urban and rural communities, the urban agriculture revolution and re-greening cities, ecology and permaculture design.


1101 W. Broadway Ave., Minneapolis, MN

Terms & Dates
Fall 2020: September 8 - December 18; Fall 2021: TBD

16 credits


Program Overview

Environmental Sustainability students learn how and why environmental burdens are inequitably distributed and explore the work of communities organizing for radical, lasting change. At the heart of the program lies a fundamental question: “How can we restore ecosystems, environmental health, and good quality of life for all?” Throughout the semester students consider the concepts of “earth care,” “people care,” and care of the future. Coursework is interdisciplinary and includes field research, a project-based internship, conversations with innovators in the field of sustainability, and a substantial partnership with a permaculture farm in Wisconsin. Students may choose to receive a permaculture design certificate by completing an additional project. The program explores structural inequalities in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and beyond, examining patterns of privilege, power, and oppression. Students take part in environmental justice organizing, ecosystems restoration, urban and rural sustainability initiatives, and complete an intensive internship. Past internship sites include Breaking Bread Cafe, MN350, the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, and Lily Springs Farm. Students leave prepared for leadership at the intersection of environmental and climate justice.

Staff and Faculty

Dr. Michelle Garvey (she/her/hers) is an interdisciplinary scholar-activist, specializing in environmental justice (EJ) theory, history, and activism. Addressing its interconnected fields—climate justice, food justice, and reproductive justice among them—Michelle educates through community-engaged projects that channel student scholarship into the EJ movement. She has collaborated with several EJ partners, including Tamales y Bicicletas, Project Sweetie Pie, The Women’s Environmental Institute, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Mashkiikii Gitigan Urban Farm, Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy, and MN State Congresspeople. Garvey also mentors the UMN student group Voices for Environmental Justice, and as an Institute on the Environment Educator, collaborates across UMN colleges to promote EJ research and community partnerships.

Most recently, Michelle served as a teaching specialist in Sustainability Studies at the University of Minnesota and Environmental Studies at Macalester College, and a food justice curriculum writer for Minnesota Youth Story Squad. She holds a Ph.D. in Feminist Studies from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, an M.A. in Women’s Studies from San Diego State University, and a B.A. in Philosophy from the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University.

Community Faculty

As a child in Sierra Leone, Hindolo Pokawa experienced the brutal violence, economic destruction, and social disintegration of civil war. After finishing high school as an adult in Zimbabwe, where he fled once the war escalated, he later entered the United States on a student visa and earned his undergraduate degree in Political Science and Global Studies, with a Minor in African-African American Studies, focusing on Peace and Governance. As the Founder and Executive Director of the Sierra Leone Foundation for New Democracy, Hindolo’s role has been to build local communities’ capacity to see themselves as part of the solution to socio-economic problems, producers of knowledge, and agents of change. Hindolo is a 2018-20 ZERO TO THREE Fellow.

A Certified Permaculture Designer, Ecological Design Partner and ecological consultant, Lindsay Rebhan is passionate about seeing land alive with life, employment, learning and nourishment. A specialist in land use, land design and land management, Lindsay works with farmers, food nonprofits and organizations to increase the ecological, human, animal and economic wealth of land over time. A graduate of Environmental Studies at the University of St. Thomas, Lindsay studied food systems and culture in Bangladesh, Cuba and Guatemala. She is a former Program Director at Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate, a Program Coordinator at Renewing the Countryside and a speaker on land regeneration issues. Lindsay has worked with Lily Springs Farm since the project started four years.

Drew is the on site Farm Manager at Lily Springs Farm. He farms, manages farm staff and community relations. Drew manages the livestock, guiding the prescribed grazing and agroforestry on the farm, as well as the perennial fruit, vegetables and pasture. Drew oversees the farm team responsibilities including Event Coordination, Education Programming and Community Partnerships. Drew is passionate about regenerative agriculture, healing the land and healing our bodies. If he’s not working, he’s hanging with his sweet dogs Pete and Ringo, practicing kung-fu, riding his bike, playing guitar, birding or mushroom hunting.

Founder of Ecological Design, published author of This Perennial Land: Third Crop, Blue Earth and Road to Restorative Agriculture. She has been a permaculture designer since 2001. Paula really loves staying focused on two things: healing the land and healing the relations of people and land. We bring the land and our selves.  back to life in a regenerative way with healing design. Paula loves connecting with people from divers backgrounds, and cultures to engage in cutting edge collaborative problem-solving.


In the twenty-first century, the environmental century, human beings must decide how to deal with the many planetary consequences of the “Great Acceleration” and its conjunction with the 500-year pattern of conquest, genocide, and extreme social marginalization of indigenous peoples and poor peoples of color. As we consider how to respond to climate change, restore degraded ecosystems, and promote a sustainable quality of life in human settlements, how might we do this in an environmentally just approach? This is the basic question to be explored in this course, in light of the past record of the inequitable distribution and accumulated disadvantage resulting from historical environmental behavior in societies and global civilization as a whole.

Since our original hunter-gatherer communities, humans have had an impact, sometimes quite negative, on our environment. What is different now, since the “Great Acceleration” that began in the mid-twentieth century, is that our environmental impacts are global in scope and potentially catastrophic in scale. Learning to become ecologically wise is thus a priority for all of humanity in the twenty-first century. Socio-ecology seeks to bridge the natural science/social science divide through transdisciplinary theory and practice by examining how social and natural systems interact, co-evolve over time, and have impacts on one another. This course integrates questions regarding sustainability challenges of water, forest, wetland, climate, soil, with those involving people, cultures, politics, and economy in a comprehensive, integral framework. This investigation builds students’ ability to see complex dynamics more clearly, and prepares students to be part of efforts to create ecologically wise policy and practices for a more sustainable future.

The Field Methods course provides students with practical socio-technical skills to assess and improve ecosystems and improve human decision-making in socio-ecological systems. We use a text by Bill Mollison, a founder of permaculture, to learn how to work with nature to improve ecological, communal, and personal health simultaneously. This course is designed to help students develop the capacity for constant and consistent ecological thinking, in order to participate in wise and effective decision-making at the interface of the human and natural worlds. All field-based learning in the course takes place in partnership with community organizations and branches of government that are working actively as ecological stewards and promoting sustainability of human society and specific settlements with wise design. We learn and apply conceptual, organizational, and technical skills to help our community and institutional partners in this process.

The Environmental Sustainability Internship provides concentrated practice, and facilitates student learning on many levels. Students integrate and refine their theoretical understanding, build and develop skills, gain a greater understanding of methods of social change, and grow in their understanding of career possibilities. Through facilitated reflection, written assignments, and activities that include time at another student’s internship site, the internship experiences are carefully integrated with the other courses. Students work a minimum of 160 hours at their placement, 12-15 hours each week for thirteen weeks of the program.


Below are details of a few recently completed internships and projects. Note that internship sites can change semester to semester in response to the needs of local organizations, and when possible, in response to the specific interests of students in the program.

The Minneapolis City Sustainability Division Office is committed to citywide economic opportunity, social equality, and environmental health. The Sustainability Office has four full time staff and is focused on integrating sustainability concepts into other City departments and policies, while also leading efforts related to climate change and urban food systems. The HECUA student intern worked with the Sustainability Office in community engagement efforts (research, attending and documenting community meetings, coordinating community input on proposed projects) around the North and South Side Green Zones.

Lily Springs is a 100-acre farm using regenerative agricultural practices informed by permaculture design elements. The farm focuses on regeneration, education, and celebration. They use livestock and perennial plants to achieve a system of climate-appropriate, carbon-negative agroforestry with zero chemical inputs typically seen in commercial agriculture. The HECUA student intern worked with the full-time farm manager to maintain and run major aspects of the farm. This included harvesting herbs and berries, creating paddocks for the goats in the forest, and learning about regenerative agriculture.

Spark-Y is a nonprofit with a mission of empowering youth through hands-on education rooted in sustainability and entrepreneurship. Spark-Y serves its mission of youth empowerment through three branches: school programs, an annual internship, and an urban agriculture lab. HECUA student interns worked as education facilitators with Spark-Y classrooms throughout the Twin Cities. This involved everything from classroom and small group facilitation, to curriculum design, to building aquaponics systems with the school groups.

The Sierra Club is America’s oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. They do this through both educational programs and political activism. One HECUA student worked with event planning for the 10/10/10 event and Climate Solutions Revolution, organized volunteers, and worked to promote events through phone banking, email blasts, and letters to the editor. Another student worked on the Campus Beyond Coal campaign, tabling at events and building further connections with student groups on the University of Minnesota campus.

Good to Know

This program gives students the opportunity to earn a Permaculture Design Certificate, if they choose to complete a permaculture project at a local farm.