Every professor at UNC has slightly different strengths, but listening to Chelsie Romulo, Ph.D., assistant professor of Geography, GIS, and Sustainability, points out some broad initiatives and patterns that make a UNC education uniquely student-centered — and all of which can be strengthened in the coming decade.

“A lot of what I do in the classroom is very project-based, and I think that's one thing that UNC really excels at,” Romulo says. “Many faculty and I are very committed to experiential learning for the students, and a lot of folks have flipped classes, project-based learning, lots of classroom activities, and our smaller upper-division class sizes allow us to be able to do that.”

The way professors such as Romulo teach — breaking semester-long projects down into smaller pieces students can tackle and learn from along the way — gives students flexibility, allows those with different learning styles to thrive, and teaches critical thinking. For example, in Romulo’s Introduction to Environmental Studies, one of the Liberal Arts Core science course options, students recently performed an experiment in one of the dining halls to find out whether removing trays reduced food waste. The first step was simply observing how people behave at dining locations with trays.

“That kind of process, there's not a right or wrong answer,” Romulo says. “And so the students can learn from that about, ‘How do I take observations? How do I use observations?’”

Students in her upper level courses have the opportunity to choose projects with community partners based on their career interests. Romulo also started pushing students to do internships early and discover what kind of role within the environment and sustainability world suits them. She can connect local parks and wildlife officials and planned an environmental networking event, scheduled during one of her courses filled with seniors so they can go.

Romulo and her fellow faculty in environmental-related fields created the Earth and Environmental Network, providing students information about their various options and connecting them with opportunities at UNC. She hopes to expand the program.

Finally, Romulo is committed to open educational resources, planning her courses to make sure that the materials are free for students to obtain through the libraries or online. This is one more way to make education more accessible and less stressful for the students who pass through UNC’s doors.   

Read more about the  Earth and Environmental Network