College of Nursing rising to prominence with sustainable development

Matthew J. Long
July 15, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the last several years, the nursing program at Penn State has grown exponentially, not just in terms of available undergraduate programs or students, but with sustainable practices and education.

Darlene Clark, assistant teaching professor with the College of Nursing, has played a critical role in the program’s progress over the years. According to Clark, the college’s efforts to become more sustainable began when it was still the School of Nursing and received a grant from the Sustainability Institute to start a recycling program in its nursing simulation (SIM) labs seven years ago. The grant was awarded to University Park and all Commonwealth Campuses with nursing programs.

“With the grant, we were able to compost organic materials and incorporate two different kinds of plastic separation,” said Clark. "We could finally recycle plastics from items such as IV tubes and otoscopes." 

The school expanded into the College of Nursing in 2013, and with the newly acquired status, the college was able to undertake other opportunities in sustainability, most notably with nursing courses. Clark and most of the faculty members who teach first-year seminars take their students to visit the MorningStar Solar Home, a 100% renewable-energy powered house, for a tour to “introduce students to sustainability as a part of their campus they might overlook.” The college has also listed sustainability as a definition it its strategic plan.

“Nursing is filled with sustainable behaviors, breastfeeding instead of bottle-feeding, good nutrition, and getting vaccines to protect your children for now and the future,” said Clark. "A lot of it is behavior we are teaching our students that they can then pass down onto their patients. These are all threaded through our varying curricula.”

In addition to education, the college created several programs and organizations to further its goals. Clark started the college's Green Team, a group of students, faculty and staff that work together to make the organization more efficient, two years ago through the Sustainability Institute. Every year, the team participates in the recycling efforts at a football game, guiding visitors on how to properly dispose of their waste in the correct recycling and trash bins. Three years ago, the college created a sustainability council to oversee all of its projects, a committee that Clark also chairs.

On the future of the college, Clark said she has several ideas on how to improve its programs and courses. She would like to include more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in lectures and present students with assignments that ask how a specific SDG can impact one's personal and professional life as a nurse. Another idea would be to work with local hospitals to share practices the college has successfully adopted.

Clark said she is proud of what the college has achieved in becoming more sustainable.

“We started with nothing,” said Clark. "It’s been growing, and there are barriers of course, but now I think we are one of the most sustainable departments.”

Last Updated September 20, 2019