Endowment opens new opportunities for Sustainability Minor

Author: Caitlin Hodges '17

Katie OtterbeckKatie Otterbeck '15

“In my first semester at Notre Dame, I took a sustainability lecture series in which English Professor John Sitter introduced us to Aldo Leopold’s essay ’The Land Ethic,’“ remembers Katie Otterbeck, ‘15. “It pulled together everything I had learned about climate change to instill in me a sense of responsibility to the planet. I kept the printed pages of that text by my bed for weeks.” 

“The Sustainability Minor was a lot more than a minor to me. It was my network of like-minded professors and fellow students,” continues Katie. “It was a platform for action. It offered me the classes that I looked forward to most. It gave me the resources that I needed to find my first job post-grad. It defined my Notre Dame experience and it has ultimately shaped my life.” 

The Minor in Sustainability is now poised for expansion both in and out of the classroom thanks to a gift from Katie’s family. The Otterbeck Family Endowment for Excellence in Undergraduate Sustainability Studies was established in March through the generosity of Jim Otterbeck and Suzie Otterbeck with the involvement of their children Katie '15 and Charlie '12.

“The Otterbecks’ incredible generosity has been a game changer for the Sustainability Minor,” says Professor Rachel Novick, Director of the Minor. “We have been able to set a number of ambitious new goals in areas including curriculum enhancement, student research support, alumni mentoring, and career guidance.”

The first major program supported by the endowment this past semester was a Course Development Grant, which was awarded to six faculty members to support the creation of new sustainability courses. “We got so many exciting applications from departments ranging from Political Science to Psychology to German,” says Novick. “The proposals exemplified our vision for including all disciplines in a dynamic conversation that contributes to addressing today’s global challenges.”

Rising senior Maria Sasso said she’s excited to see the program expanding because the Minor has been her favorite part of academic life at Notre Dame. The neuroscience major said the interdisciplinary aspect of the program has allowed her to take classes in other colleges that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to take. “From business ethics classes to a class taught in the Galapagos, my sustainability classes have been some of the most interesting, applicable, and exciting classes I’ve taken,” Sasso said.

Since 2013, the Minor in Sustainability Studies has graduated approximately 70 students. Some graduates have gone on to careers in environmental consulting, water conservation, and energy policy while others have pursued graduate study in ecology, sustainable urban development, and environmental law.