Graduation Year


Graduation Month


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

School or Department

Environmental Studies


Environmental Studies

Faculty Mentor Department

Environmental Studies

Faculty Mentor

Peter McDonough


sustainability, sustainability education, University of Montana, three pillars of sustainability

Subject Categories

Environmental Studies


Sustainability education has become increasingly important to prepare the next generation of professionals to address immense challenges such as climate change. Institutions of higher education play a critical role in developing student understanding and perceptions of sustainability through their curricula, specifically in the three pillars of sustainability: ecology, economy, and society. This research paper explores sustainability education at the University of Montana to answer the following questions: (1) To what extent do sustainability-focused and sustainability-inclusive courses at the University of Montana include themes or concepts from all three pillars of sustainability; (2) Do courses at UM impact student understanding, beliefs, attitudes, and intentions about sustainability; and (3) From among the small group of sustainability courses sampled, are students’ understanding, beliefs, attitudes, or intentions impacted by course content? I collected data in three phases. First, I examined UM’s 2021 Sustainability Tracking and Assessment Report (STARS) of inventoried sustainability courses to analyze the distribution of the three pillars of sustainability. Second, I assessed syllabi from three sustainability courses taught in the fall of 2021. Lastly, I administered a survey to students in those three courses at the beginning and end of the fall 2021 semester to measure student understanding, beliefs, attitudes, and intentions. The results showed that only 18% of the inventoried sustainability courses incorporated all three dimensions of sustainability, and the economic dimension was the least represented across courses. Syllabi varied in topics and activities and was more difficult to compare given that there is no common framework for curricula development. The survey results revealed that most students held sustainability beliefs prior to the course which stayed consistent over time. Student understanding and attitudes were more variable and had the biggest changes from beginning to end of the semester, while intentions somewhat changed. Currently, there is no standardized assessment tool for examining sustainability curricula internationally or at UM, which made the research process nuanced and difficult. This research suggest that UM needs a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to develop an updated and common framework to guide curricula development, as well as a standard assessment tool, so that aspects of sustainability teaching are consistent across campus.

Honors College Research Project


GLI Capstone Project




© Copyright 2022 Zoe M. Transtrum