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Unfortunately, the IN FOCUS: Sustainability, Climate Change & the Innovating City program will not be available in 2016

College Preparation Program: IN FOCUS Seminar

Sustainability, Climate Change & the Innovating City

Mitigating the future impact of climate change, and adapting to those already inevitable crises and challenges, is a rapidly increasing concern in urban areas. This multifaceted seminar will draw upon the perspective of local and national experts and examine Chicago’s sustainability initiatives in relation to climate change. Through a dynamic mix of field trips, meetings with established leaders, projects, readings, and discussions, this interactive experience offers a practical foundation in the most current challenges and opportunities being encountered in this work. You will see and study how different sectors are responding — including energy, business, buildings, food systems and transportation — and how they are creating a range of new educational and professional trajectories. Designed to help you cultivate your role as one of tomorrow's sustainability innovators, and sharpen your college and career plans, the course will leave you with an empowering new perspective that will enable you to apply your deepened understanding to a broad diversity of future pursuits. The program is hosted in partnership with the Foresight Design Initiative, a Chicago-based sustainability innovation organization with significant educational experience and extensive local connections.


Each day is different in this highly interactive program. Approximately 2/3 of the classes will be held on the Evanston campus, with the remainder of the time spent on site visits throughout Chicago. By using the city as a living classroom, the seminar provides unique access to local sustainability initiatives through tours and meetings with sector leaders. Group discussions, exercises, and projects foster collaboration and a deeper understanding of the insight gained from lectures and outings.

The course is structured to provide students with an overview of issues, beginning with reflecting on sustainability strengths and weaknesses of their own communities. Key concepts and vocabulary are introduced as topics are explored through discussions about readings, field trips, and guest speakers. Students will document their insights through daily field notes and journaling. Final projects that include a presentation and accompany paper are initiated in the first week, and delivered on the last day of the program. Involving background research, synthesizing concepts, ideation and reflection, it focuses on an aspect of the student’s home community that they view in need of sustainable innovation. Students receive a comprehensive syllabus and accompanying resource guide at the start of the seminar and are connected to one another before, during and after the program through a private online social media group.


  • Provide a foundation in the knowledge and applications of greater social, environmental and economic sustainability
  • Empower participants to better pursue sustainability-related college plans and/or professional paths
  • Develop leadership capacity by exposing participants to successful projects and innovators


This seminar is appropriate for college-bound high school students with an abiding interest in sustainability-related topics and a desire to analyze and understand them more deeply. Past students have incorporated what they have learned into a wide variety of undergraduate majors and extracurricular activities. Outside of a desire to learn and contribute, no special expertise is required.

A Typical Classroom Session

This seminar will be a mixture of half days and full days. On the full days, there will be field trips or other seminar activities that will require attendance beyond the typical classroom schedule.

Subject of the Day: Public Policy Impacts


Article discussion: To Really Save the Planet, Stop Going Green. Do you agree with the author’s premise that large scale policy changes, rather than small lifestyle changes, are necessary to work against climate change—why or why not? How do you define “sustainable” versus “green”? What is a meaningful form of change making for you?


Field Trip Discussion: What were the key issues discussed during yesterday’s visits to the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Clean Energy Trust? What issues are they addressing and why? What strategies are they employing and what is your assessment of their effectiveness?




Project Check-In: Status updates and an opportunity to ask questions and seek guidance on final projects.


Guest speaker from a major corporation discussing climate change in the corporate sphere. How are enterprises responding to climate issues? What issues are they facing with measuring, reporting and reducing their climate footprint? How does local and national policy impact their activities?

Resources and Materials

The seminar’s resource guide provides a diversity of materials including: reading list, glossary of terms, brief history of the environmental movement in the U.S., bibliography of key texts and sustainability websites, among other information. Given the quickly evolving nature of the field, it is updated annually and provided to students at the beginning of the session. Throughout the program, students rotate through note taking and leadership roles and break into small groups to conduct facilitated discussions, the essence of which is reported back to the full class.