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The Penstemon Project for Sustainability Across the Curriculum was initially sponsored by the Ignatian Center and the Environmental Studies Institute (now the Environmental Studies & Sciences department), and was a major component of SCU’s Sustainability Initiative.
History of Penstemon

Founded 2007

Nineteen faculty attended a peer-led workshop in June 2007 aimed to integrate sustainability across the curriculum at Santa Clara University. Participants were introduced to local experts (within SCU and beyond) who shared their knowledge about sustainability, identified relevant resources, and provided suggestions for field trip options for their courses.

Project leaders provided inspiration, background information, space for discussion, and a monetary incentive for participants to develop their new or revised syllabi.

faculty sitting around for a seminar

Beyond that, the participants were the experts. Amara Brook, Assistant Professor of Psychology commented, “I learned about many exciting ways in which people are incorporating sustainability into a wide variety of courses. These creative ideas will help me integrate environmental content into my general psychology course." 

"The workshop helped me to encourage students to think more deliberately about how sociology can be used to better understand and address issues related to the environment and sustainability,” said Laura Nichols, Department Chair of Sociology, “especially in ways that will keep them thinking about and responding to these issues beyond graduation.”

A website dedicated to detailing the changes to curriculum that are occurring as a result of the Project is under development. Soon, others who have not been through the workshop can see what their peers are doing with their classes. “It might end up being kind of viral,” said Matzek. “I’m very excited about the possibilities.” 

John Farnsworth, Co-Faculty Director of Cyphi, Lecturer in English and Environmental Studies, and director of the next year’s Penstemon Project reflected on what he learned while organizing the first:

“I realized how deep SCU’s commitment to sustainability runs: university administration was quick to provide funding and support, and faculty responded to our initial request for proposals with enthusiasm.” 

A second Penstemon Workshop was held in 2009 for 20 more faculty members, and the program has only grown since.

Sustainability Curriculum Advisory Council

The Sustainability Curriculum Advisory Council was created in 2017 to assist in Penstemon efforts by supporting the infusion of sustainability across the Santa Clara University curriculum. Members review curriculum inventory (process and results) and recommend faculty to receive summer stipends for curriculum transformation. They also collaborate to develop ideas to further sustainability-related curricular development.

How to Apply for a Summer Stipend

While summer stipends are sometimes arranged on a departmental or school basis, faculty from any school/department can query John Farnsworth ( with an idea for adding a sustainability component to a course or developing a new course focused on sustainability. Awards are restricted to full-time faculty who anticipate teaching at SCU the following year. Stipend applications need be no longer than a page long, but should include a brief course description, a description of the sustainability-related activities, and learning outcomes from the sustainability components that will be added to the course. A luncheon workshop will be provided in late May for grantees, so it is preferable to receive stipend applications by mid-May. 

2016 Stipend Recipients
Recipient Department
Shireen Al-Azzawi Economics
Deirdre Frontczak Business School, Dean's Office
Christian Helmers Economics
Long Le Management
Bill Mains Business School, Undergraduate Business Programs
Roberto Mata Religious Studies
Jean Molesky-Poz Religious Studies
Helen Popper Economics
Sarah Robinson-Bertoni Religious Studies
  • Virginia Matzek

    1 of the 5 Penstemon Project Organizers

    Virginia Matzek

    “The Penstemon Project is designed for faculty outside of the traditional environmentally-focused disciplines to find ways to incorporate sustainability into their curriculum – either as class content or in the way their class functions. It could be as simple as having a field trip to a nature area in a writing class – or even simpler, carpooling to that field trip.”