Portland State University

At Portland State University, students don’t wait until after graduation to begin changing our world. They start right away on our urban campus—a vibrant, living laboratory for confronting the challenges of climate change head on. From developing bike lanes and transit lines to testing green roof systems and electric vehicles, PSU students collaborate with faculty and community partners to design real-world strategies for addressing the climate challenges of today and tomorrow.

Because sustainability requires collaboration and the integration of knowledge from many fields, at Portland State our sustainability programs are not part of any one department. Rather, sustainability is infused across all schools in the university and is a campus-wide learning outcome for every student. Integrating sustainability into our programs and majors goes beyond the classroom—we provide students with opportunities for experiential learning by engaging directly in community projects. All undergraduate students must participate in a Senior Capstone, a course specifically designed to take students out of the classroom and into the field. Working in teams with businesses, nonprofits, and civic organizations, students in Capstone courses actively engage with their community to address tangible sustainability issues in Portland and beyond.

PSU’s location in the heart of the city provides faculty with endless opportunities to design Capstone courses focused on sustainable urban innovation. Portland State’s eight LEED certified buildings, district energy loop, electric-vehicle charging stations, eco-roofs, and solar arrays are just the beginning. PSU has also partnered with the city of Portland and local stakeholders to develop our campus as one of Portland’s five pilot EcoDistricts—neighborhoods committed to achieving broad sustainably goals and reducing the carbon footprint at a district scale. Students in Capstones don’t just learn about the EcoDistrict concept in the classroom, they reach across campus lines to neighboring businesses, landowners, residents, and city planners to help make this vision a reality.

Beyond coursework, our Solutions Generator program provides support and funding for student-led projects that make our campus and community more sustainable. Last year, students turned the campus into a testing ground for processing compost, treating wastewater, and improving transportation options. The University has worked closely with the city to develop our urban transit system, a partnership that has resulted in the PSU campus being the busiest public transit hub in the entire Portland-Metropolitan area. Through this partnership, the University provides reduced rate transit passes to faculty, staff, and students. However, a team of Solutions Generator students took the issue of transit access to an entirely new level—researching, planning, and proposing a universal transit pass that would be provided to every student.

This year, the Campus Planning and Sustainability Offices will work with students on Solutions Generator projects that improve PSU’s food, water, and waste systems—furthering student involvement in achieving our campus’s Climate Action Plan goals. Our recent designation as a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U serves as recognition of our work to provide our students with the skills they need to solve the world’s problems.