Senior Michael Steele Helps Integrate Sustainability Into the Classroom at Penn

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Media Contact:Jeanne Leong | | 215-573-8151August 4, 2014

Michael Steele stayed on the University of Pennsylvania campus this summer pursuing research as one of four students selected to participate in the Penn Green Campus Partnership’s Integrating Sustainability Across the Curriculum program.

The program funds internships that pair student research assistants with Penn faculty members to work on infusing new or existing courses with themes of environmental sustainability.

The rising senior spent eight weeks working with Wharton professor Sarah Light integrating sustainability topics into Light’s Environmental Management, Law and Policy course.

He examined sources to identify interesting readings to add to Light’s course, including a story about the BP oil company’s marketing strategy and what was happening at the company leading up to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“It introduced a less business-positive perspective,” says Steele. “So it was a nice way to balance out the course.” 

In addition, Steele conducted research for Light and Wharton professor Eric Orts on a paper they’re writing about what private companies are doing voluntarily to help protect the environment.

“Walmart, for instance, in 2006 decided it was going to source all of its seafood from fisheries and hatcheries that have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council,” Steele says.

The internship has given Steele a chance to learn more about sustainability issues and to have an impact on the professors’ projects. 

“There’s definitely opportunity to contribute and see that what you’re doing is bigger than yourself,” he says.  

Originally from the suburbs of New York City, when he was a teenager Steele’s family relocated to London for his father’s job. He now considers that city his hometown.

At the end of the summer, Steele and the three other ISAC interns will present their work to the Penn Green Campus Partnership and at an undergraduate research symposium. 

An economics major in the College, with a minor in philosophy, Steele has a new view on sustainability issues.

“After this summer,” he says, "I’m definitely more interested in environmental-related work.”

Based on the success of the internship, Light has invited Steele to continue to work as a research assistant this fall.