Green Education

For Matt Shinderman, teaching felt as natural as being outdoors with his grandfather as a child. The senior instructor at OSU-Cascades blends his passion for both in his work.

Matt Shinderman

OSU-Cascades professor Matt Shinderman at Smith Rock outside Bend, Ore.

Shinderman teaches courses on everything from endangered species ecology to environmental politics and policy. His goal: to help students contribute to sustainable communities. Shinderman makes sure that happens by giving students hands-on experiences beyond the classroom, like measuring the effects of stream restoration work, and guiding them while they create their own projects that address their communities’ needs.

We recently had the chance to talk with Shinderman about teaching, a course designed specifically for sustainability and what motivates him to continue.

Where are you from? What made you decide to go into ecology?

I am originally from Fairfax, Virginia, about as far away as I could possibly be at this point. I spent quite a bit of time with my grandfather outdoors, and I think some of those early influences got me attached to being outside. When I was an undergraduate, I had some very influential professors in the field of ecology and conservation biology, and it solidified my interest in ecosystems.

What made you decide to teach those things to others?

Teaching was a circumstance of graduate school. I taught a little bit as a Master’s student and really enjoyed it. I connected with the students well. As I got more and more teaching experience it became obvious it was something I wanted to do for the long term.

What kind of issues are you hoping to resolve with the work that you do?

The easy answer would be to save the world, but that would be a little dramatic. What I would really like to do at this point, particularly with teaching, is help resolve community problems related to common natural resources we often use but don’t think about – and then in a larger perspective help communities to become more sustainable.

You teach a course entirely dedicated to the idea of sustainable communities. Can you talk about that?

NR 350, Sustainable Communities, is an interdisciplinary introduction to sustainability theory and practice.  At a conceptual level, the class assumes a triple bottom line approach: curriculum must integrate ecological, economic and social concepts.

The course begins with a module on contemporary sustainability theories and concepts during which students learn about the conceptual development of sustainability and the dominant frameworks in use around the world today, like Natural Step.

After the initial module the course transitions into a guest lecture mode where experts from campus and the community present on various components of sustainability, spanning community development, economic tools and practices, collaborative resource management, green building and other topics.

Students’ progress is assessed primarily through a term-long proposal for which they develop a sustainability-related project intended for a local business or organization. They can implement their projects in the following term in their practicum.

Some of the projects they’ve proposed in the past have been to work with Bend Golf and Country Club to develop a comprehensive food waste management and composting system. A group of students also developed a comprehensive sustainability assessment protocol for the Old Mill District, a commercial mixed-use center in Bend. This required collaboration with OMD staff and individual businesses, particularly during the implementation phase where students conducted an assessment for REI.

What do your students go on to do when they graduate?

Our students go on to do a lot of different things. Some go on to work with the watershed councils that are spread throughout the state, and they work on a variety of different projects related to water rights adjudication. Some work on restoration projects. Quite a few work for federal agencies, or state land management agencies in a variety of different capacities.

What do you appreciate most about your students?

I think beyond the investment in their own education, our students are eager to get out of the classroom and be involved in some of the real projects that have tangible results at the end of the day or at the end of the academic term. They have a hunger for getting out and immersing themselves in the systems we talk about in the classroom.

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