A lecturer with the Georgia Tech Language Institute, Melissa Aberle-Grasse specializes in teaching writing and service-learning, a course which takes students to a nearby community to tutor and practice English. She also tutors in GATECH’s Communication Center.

Clarifying the definition of a buzzword like ‘sustainability’ is difficult; integrating the concept into disciplines as diverse as English language and industrial engineering is tougher. But at Georgia Tech, we’re always up for a challenge.

I followed the charge by showing up for the Serve-Learn-Sustain (SLS) Course Design workshop in June, 2016. I came looking to reinvigorate my English through Service-Learning course (through the Language Institute) and to connect with Tech’s SLS vision and resources—and the morning more than met my expectations.

Welcomed with great coffee and fresh fruit in the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s spacious, bright meeting room, I thought, ‘This is walking the talk. We’re meeting at the headquarters of this widely respected community agency to work as professional educators with them.’

We first examined the term ‘sustainability’ from different angles, guided by Jennifer Hirsch. (As a linguistics professional, I loved this part.) The definition usually integrates concepts as a triad of economy, environment and social equity, but we added to that. Considering beauty as part of the equation, and confronting questions of marginalized peoples and priorities, came up in the dialogue. Engineers raised questions from the energy industry, and designers from physical, practical concerns.

A spirit of excitement and curiosity struck me that morning, a freedom to experiment with our usually tight structures of curricular goals. I actually heard several times in enthusiastic tones, “I don’t know!”

Fortunately, we also spent time listening to each other and to partner experts. Teachers of the first SLS courses and representatives from community organizations helped us wrestle with how to engage students in service work.

I came away connected to several potential partners on campus and in neighboring agencies. An SLS theme for 2016-17 is Food, Energy and Water Systems (FEWS), which I’ll integrate into the topics for discussion and action in my course.

The Atlanta Community Food Bank headquarters has an efficient but attractive design filled with beautiful photos of local people and food. Visiting there, you feel hopeful that together we can tackle the problem of hunger in the Atlanta area. Similarly, I left the SLS workshop with a sense of pride and energy: working together, we can make Georgia Tech a place where students not only learn about sustainable communities but also begin to skillfully build them.