Shoemaker Green


Powering Student Research: Spotlight on Andro Mathewson

January 11, 2017
Andro Mathewson

This year, Penn Sustainability Office (PSO) is out to repeat the energy savings achieved during the 2016 Energy Reduction Challenge, which took place as part of the larger Power Down campaign. Similar to last year, savings from the challenge will be allocated to funding Climate Action Research Grants through the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF).

This is the second story in a two-part series featuring work from Penn undergraduates who have benefitted from this funding. To read more about the premise of this initiative and the first project, check out this previous article.

Andro Mathewson is one of a few students contributing to a research project managed by Professor Simon Richter and entitled “Languages of Sustainability.”

Andro, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences intending to major in both German and PPE (philosophy, politics and economics), comes to the discussion on sustainability from a humanities background. His involvement in the project came from a linguistics interest and has since sparked an interest in sustainability. His personal goal as he approached the project, he says, was an intention to ease into the scientific discussion through a linguistic bridge. This closely mirrors the purpose of the project itself: to break down the language barrier surrounding sustainability.

The Language of Sustainability project was initially developed by Professor Richter with the ultimate goal of opening it up to a worldwide project. The research team aims to analyze the various cultural and linguistic associations of the term sustainability so as to improve the global discussion on sustainable development.

So far, Andro and his fellow student researchers have reached out to an incredibly long list of academic and institutional sources worldwide. Their survey prompts each responder to provide his or her culture’s term for sustainability and then follows with questions regarding the use of the term, the origin of the term, the presence of the idea in schools and more. In their analysis, they are looking for similarities among the results as well as grouping responses by language and region.

Thus far, Andro and the team have found significant similarities by language group and have noticed a prevalence of the relevant term in developed countries. In particular, Andro is surprised that the concept of sustainability emerged simultaneously in disparate cultures and locations.

Their discoveries are numerous: they’ve found that sustainability is slowly breaking through into school curricula in Eastern Europe and South America, that African and Middle Eastern cultures associate the term most with a pure definition of sustainability, not necessarily relating it to the environment, and that North American cultures practically equate sustainability with the environment.

For Andro, the research remains periphery in his academic trajectory. While he does not anticipate seeking a career in a scientific field, he is interested in further incorporating environmental studies and exploring German environmental policy. This research project, he says, has made him significantly more aware of sustainability and related environmental issues, as well as revealed to him the linguistic intricacies of the term.

As PSO continues its partnership with CURF in 2017, Penn will fund additional research projects like Andro’s through the savings generated by the Energy Reduction Challenge. Hopefully, this will give more students the opportunity to enjoy a similar experience of discovery. Delving into new areas and finding new passions are cornerstones of a Penn education, and PSO is proud to help empower student research.

Visit this page on our website for more information on the 2017 Energy Reduction Challenge and how you can get involved.

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