Background/Question/Methods The concept of sustainability is often abstract, but in practice it has been applied to how we live, work and make decisions that consider the long-term futures of environmental (and ostensibly ecological), social and economic well-being. In higher education, opportunities to develop sustainability-focused campus culture have grown significantly, in which students engage in initiatives that address campus and community, and even global-facing, issues. These can range from instituting campus recycling and gardening programs, identifying campus-specific needs in resource use and transportation, and developing co-curricular projects (see the Association of Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) efforts). Students become interested in these activities informed by a diversity of lived experiences; some feel compelled to service and to “make a difference” on their campuses, or to “help save their environment” through more sustainable practices that feel good or productive to accomplish. Students are often unaware of the ecological underpinnings that drive these decisions, but the Four-Dimensional Ecology Education (4DEE) framework provides an excellent opportunity to expose students to the value and relevance of ecological science, particularly through the human-environment interaction dimension. During this presentation, I will share my experiences with undergraduate students as they have worked toward making those connections.
Results/Conclusions Students involved in both personal and campus-based sustainability activities, as a part of courses in environmental science at Nevada State College, had the opportunity to reflect on their own understanding of the concepts of sustainability and ecology, both before and after engaging in coursework and supporting activities (e.g., personal resource use audits, photo-documentation and storytelling, campus outreach). Students in a mixed-major course in general ecology tended to use their course knowledge to inform their understanding of sustainability usually through an emphasis on systems (a cross-cutting theme) and a recognition of ecosystem services and ethical dimensions (human-environment interactions). They entered the course with a greater comfort in sustainability concepts and less in ecological ones, but by the end of the course students explicitly described how a newfound appreciation of the breadth and depth of ecological concepts and an increased perceived value of natural systems helped them gain a deeper understanding of the “reasons” behind sustainability initiatives. Similar outcomes were seen in students from non-majors backgrounds or those who were interested in sustainability activities for personal reasons although they generally entered their activities having less comfort with ecological concepts than did students in the general ecology course.