Connecting Sustainability Competences and Pedagogies FOR THE WIN!

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) just announced that our paper ‘Connecting Competences and Pedagogical Approaches for Sustainable Development in Higher Educationis a winner for the 2018 AASHE Sustainability Research Award! Please contact me if you are interested in presentations or workshops on this material.

The core of the research paper is this chart (click to enlarge), showing how different pedagogies (teaching and learning approaches) are connected to developing different competences (helping “students to develop important knowledge, values, aptitudes, and attitudes necessary to address complex issues they will encounter in their future personal lives and professional careers”) that are considered essential in Higher Education for Sustainability. (Feel free to contact me for more detailed explanations of the competencies, pedagogies, and connections between them – earlier drafts had a lot more to say than what we had room for in the paper.)

Winners will be recognized during the opening ceremony at the AASHE Conference & Expo in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Oct. 2. Finalists’ entries were judged on criteria including overall impact, innovation,  and clarity.  To learn more about AASHE’s Sustainability Awards programs, please visit

Academic Publishing and Career Conundrums

And now, a little background on my role in writing said paper, and how life in academia does (or often, does not) work:

Rodrigo Lozano invited me to work on this paper with him when he came out to Nanyang Technological University in 2014. I presented a preview of the paper at the Global Cleaner Production & Sustainable Consumption Conference in 2015. As described in the paper’s Author Contributions section:

Rodrigo Lozano proposed the research topic and methods and lead the co-authors. Kim Ceulemans collated some preliminary references. Michelle Y. Merrill carried out extensive further research, prepared the tables, and produced a more complete draft. Francisco J. Lozano and Kaisu Sammalisto checked the framework. All authors reviewed the subsequent drafts and discussed the table contents in detail, as well as the entire paper several times.

We wavered about the authorship, given that Rodrigo had started some preliminary ideas and notes for the paper with Kim and another colleague (Carol Scarff Seatter), but then I had taken those notes, done the rest of the research and writing to fill out the lists of competences and pedagogies, and created the chart that connected them. At that point, Rodrigo had suggested that I would be first author on the paper. We brought Kim back in, and invited Francisco and Kaisu to contribute in further refining the essentially completed draft of the paper and providing alternative perspectives for solidifying the chart.

When it came time to publish, we decided we definitely wanted to publish in an open access journal.  In open access publishing, the authors (or more accurately, usually the grant that funded the work, or the university where the authors work) pay a few thousand dollars to the publisher for handling the peer-review process and making the paper accessible. At that point, my contracts at Nanyang Technological University were over, and I was actively looking for an academic position. We didn’t have a grant to support the work (since it was a literature review and theory paper), and I certainly didn’t have the means to pay for publication out-of-pocket. The only way Rodrigo’s university would cover the publication cost was if he was first author, so we went that way, and the citation for the paper is

Lozano, R.; Merrill, M.Y.; Sammalisto, K.; Ceulemans, K.; Lozano, F.J. Connecting Competences and Pedagogical Approaches for Sustainable Development in Higher Education: A Literature Review and Framework Proposal. Sustainability 20179, 1889.

The award announcement reads:

Rodrigo Lozano and Kaisu Sammalisto at Gävle University College, Kim Ceulemans at Federal University in Toulouse, and Francisco J. Lozano at Tecnológico de Monterrey and Michelle Y. Merrill for “Connecting Competences and Pedagogical Approaches for Sustainable Development in Higher Education: A Literature Review and Framework Proposal.” This paper examines how different pedagogical approaches impact the development of sustainability competencies among students.

Apparently AASHE didn’t know how to list me on there, because I’m not currently affiliated with a college or university, so they just tacked me on at the end. When they sent an email asking whether I was still at Nanyang Technological University (my last contract there ended in mid-2016), I sent this in reply:

Thanks for contacting me, and my thanks to the committee for the recognition of our paper.
I am no longer affiliated with any university. I am now working independently, in the following contexts:
  1. Sustainability Education Consultant,
  2. International Sustainability Advisor / US Operations Manager, In3 Group: Impact Capital Advisors & International Finance, (just started a couple weeks ago – I will be adding my bio to the website sometime next week…)
  3. Founder and Organizer, Novasutras Movement,
  4. Director of Sustainability Programming / Secretary, Point of Perception, (this project is just launching, website will be built in a few weeks…)
  5. Advisory Board Member, National Ecology and Environment Foundation (India),
Sorry this is not neat and tidy. After 3 years on the academic job market, I decided I needed to try something different – several things, as it turned out.
Kind regards,


You may recall that last October, I was able to get crowdfunding  and a scholarship to go to the AASHE conference and present my poster on Higher Education for Sustainability in Asian Contexts and a workshop on Techniques to Foster Interpersonal Competences. It seemed like too much to ask for on a second year, and since I am starting to pursue non-academic work more intensely now, I chose not to make the trip this year.
I loved being an academic, and I passionately wanted to pursue further research in the area of sustainability competences and pedagogies. I had a research plan for the next phase of this work, hoping to create a website, a book, and maybe an institute someday to focus on the challenges of how to best conduct teaching and learning in Higher Education for Sustainability. I am still doing some pro bono research and question development work for Sulitest (the Sustainability Literacy Test) that relates to these ideas.
However, I needed a paid position to support my continued work on these projects. I have not been able to extract myself from the money culture: I have bills to pay, and I live in a country where medical insurance and expenses are shouldered by individuals. It was clear that I was never going to get my student loans paid and get out from under all my other debts, let alone start saving for retirement, with limited and unreliable adjunct and contract gigs in academia.
Since 3+ years of an academic job search didn’t result in any offers for a full-time position, I finally accepted that it was time to release that dream, and reorganize myself to pursue something else that aligns with my driving question: How can we connect with, learn from and teach each other, so together we can co-create a regenerative, resilient culture?  
For today, I am still in the α-phase of my career panarchy, with a number of possible paths ahead to move me into whatever the next r-phase might be. Will winning an award for research help me (any more than my previous award for teaching did)? Who knows?

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