Steve Mannell, professor

A day in the life

Steve Mannell, professor

We want to show that creativity and passion have a place in the learning process. All around, I think students get a much richer experience than they were expecting.

Working together, moving forward

Collaboration is the how the College of Sustainability rolls. Just ask Steven Mannell, professor of architecture and the College’s Director: “The ESS program was created through collaboration,” he says, “and it's still happening in the classroom.”

Prof. Mannell carried this studio-based approach from his first discipline, Architecture, and applied it not only to getting the College off the ground, but also to his teaching.

Make that co-teaching. “Traditionally, two profs might share a class,” Prof. Mannell says, “but not at the same time. At the College, collaboration happens on many levels.”

In the SUST 1000 unit on whales and conservation, he explains, “we designed one lecture to have several parts: a biologist talks about whale biology and whale culture, while a historian talks about the development of whale-based consumer products. I bring an architect’s view of whaling communities, on land and on the ships. Information isn’t just delivered—links are created through discussion.”

“Sometimes we’ve found unexpected relationships,” Prof. Mannell adds. “Like the link between the importance of grandmothers in whale societies and that, in Nantucket, women ran things while men were on whaling expeditions. Team teaching really lets students see those relationships.”

But it’s not all about the baby belugas, so to speak. Prof. Mannell takes aspects of his research interests into the SUST 1000 class. For one thing, he’s interested in vernacular technologies—specifically, the connection between traditional material culture and architecture.

“We had traditional builder Jef Achenbach come in for the section on Acadian culture in Nova Scotia. He brought in mud, marsh grass and reeds,” Prof. Mannell explains, “and right there in the classroom, we built a torchis wall and thatched a roof!”

“Things like this help students feel really engaged—especially when they volunteer to get up on stage and plunge their hands into the mud or help with the thatching,” Prof. Mannell says.

But student engagement happens in other ways, too. By attending team-taught lectures, participating in tutorials, and collaborating in group projects, “Students get a sense of what they can do based on their given capacities,” Prof. Mannell says. “And they also discover what role they play in a larger group and how to work together to move things forward. We’re giving them a sense of agency or power in the world, and inspiring them to take action.”