Since the Fall of 2008, Department Chairperson Robert Letovsky has collaborated with Prof. Valerie Banschbach, former Chairperson of the Biology Department and now Director of the newly-established Environmental Studies Program. Their work together began with the launching of a new First Year Seminar, Solving Environmental Problems. This course was a rework of a seminar entitled “Sustainable Development”, originally developed by Letovsky and Prof. Reza Ramazani of the Economics Department. That version of the seminar was considered a Social Sciences based-course and used a combination of case studies and readings to address environmental issues. Prof. Banschbach redesigned the seminar so that it could be included in the Lab Sciences portion of the Liberal Studies Curriculum. This meant designing several laboratory experiments and assignments that focused on environmental issues. One of the labs Prof. Banschbach introduced into the seminar had students fermenting raw sugar cane and corn to produce ethanol, an additive to gasoline that has been the subject of considerable debate among environmentalists, public policy analysts and economists. To prepare for the lab exercise, Prof. Banschbach prepared detailed instructions on the fermentation process, and Prof. Letovsky wrote a background paper introducing students to the business, economic and political aspects of the debate surrounding food-based biofuels. At the conclusion of the experiment, students had acquired a first-hand look at the relative efficiency of producing ethanol from sugar, and the relative inefficiency of corn-based ethanol.
This work subsequently lead to Prof. Banschbach and Letovsky submitting two papers which were accepted in academic journals focused on science education. The first article, “The Use of Corn versus Sugarcane to Produce Ethanol Fuel: A Fermentation Experiment for Environmental Studies” appeared in the January, 2010 issue of The American Biology Teacher. The second article, “The use of corn and sugarcane to produce biofuel” in Tested Studies for Laboratory Teaching” was published in the Proceedings of the 32nd Conference of the Association of Biology LaboratoryEducators (ABLE), after Prof. Banschbach presented the laboratory as a major workshop at the Annual Meeting of ABLE at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. Both articles contained detailed instructions prepared by Prof. Banschbach for educators on how to set up and conduct the experiment.
The second venture in which business, biology and environmental studies were brought together by Profs. Banschbach and Letovsky began in the Spring of 2009. For the entire semester, Prof. Letovsky’s section of the Business major capstone course, Business Policy and Strategic Management, met with a section of the Biology major’s Senior Seminar, taught by Prof. Banschbach. The aim of these meetings was to form mixed business-biology teams who would prepare business plans for “green” business ideas, and submit them to the College’s Enterprise Plan Competition. This interdisciplinary collaboration began with five joint sessions, where business students presented the basics of various aspects of business to the biology majors, and the biology majors presented the scientific issues behind major environmental problems. The students were then formed into teams of 3-5, and over the course of the next several weeks, prepared business plans based on a “green” concept of their choice. Ultimately, the combined business-biology sections generated five of the 30 plans submitted to the 2009 EPC, with two of them being selected to be among the five finalists. One of these two, consisting of BU majors Cinzia Coppola and Brendan Clark, together with Biology major Mallory Norton, was selected as the winner of the 2009 event for their plan for a multi-purpose composting facility (see photo below).
The business-biology project continued for the Spring 2010 and 2011 semesters, with teams from this initiative making into the EPC finals both years. Profs. Letovsky and Banschbach have shared their experiences in this interdisciplinary project in three different venues. A paper, “Developing ‘Green’ Business Plans: Using Entrepreneurship to Teach Science to Business Administration Majors and Business to Biology majors” will appear in the Journal of College Science Teaching, this comingAugust. In the summer of 2010, Prof. Banschbach discussed this capstone collaboration in a panel session of the National Meeting of the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences in Portland, Oregon. And, Profs. Banschbach and Letovsky have also followed up on that panel by submitting the presented work to form part of a special issue focusing on innovations in environmental capstones in the new Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.