When Virginia Pellington, of Baltimore, Maryland, registered for a Virginia Tech course called Seeking Sustainability, she had no idea students would be given opportunities to design and implement their own curriculum and then grade their own efforts.
And, to Pellington’s surprise, the course became a pathway to both a campus job and an exciting new career path for the junior majoring in multimedia journalism in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
Course instructor Timothy Baird, assistant professor of geography in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, took a lesson from “Drive,” Daniel Pink’s book about motivation, and developed “Pink Time,” a series of opportunities during the semester where students are encouraged to “skip class, do anything you want, and give yourself a grade.”
Students spend the time they would normally devote to Baird’s class exploring something they are passionate about or interested in learning and then share their experiences in the classroom.
“Some of the magic that happens is not simply from the activity itself, but when people come into the room the next day and share, and everybody starts looking at everybody else with more respect,” Baird explained.
Pellington developed an interest in sustainability after completing a research project on deforestation in a freshman communications class. That research sparked an interest in environmentalism that led her to Baird’s Seeking Sustainability course last spring.
While her freshman research project may have created a spark, Pellington credits the course with lighting a fire. “It’s really changed my outlook on what I want to do with my life and how I want to use my time,” she said.
“We were talking in class one day about what we would do if we had employees working for us,” she recalled. “I think I said something like ‘have them do my laundry,’ but Dr. Baird said that if he had someone working for him, he would have them create a Pink Time website.”
Inspired by Baird’s desire to share Pink Time with others, Pellington chose to create a website as her project. She shared the website mock-up in class, and Baird soon hired her to create a real Pink Time website.
“Initially, I made the site as a place for students to showcase what we were doing in class, but Dr. Baird really wanted a tool to show other educators how to implement Pink Time,” Pellington said.
Over the summer Pellington worked alongside Baird to develop a website (www.pinktime.org) that would help answer many of the questions he receives from other faculty about Pink Time.
“I get a lot of questions from faculty about how and why they should use Pink Time,” Baird explained, “so we wanted to introduce the idea and help faculty apply the assignment if they want to give it a try.”
The website features information on Baird’s inspiration for Pink Time, the research behind self-regulated learning, and a step-by-step guide to incorporating the assignment into a college class.
Pellington and Baird hope that the website will become a valuable resource for other educators. “There’s not much to lose from using Pink Time, but there could be a lot to gain,” Pellington said. “My classmates have all created inspiring and creative projects. I still think about those projects and they inspire me.”
Although the website was completed last summer, Pellington currently assists Baird in the development of a new minor called Pathways to Sustainability. The proposed minor, which emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability, includes a variety of course options in subjects ranging from cartography to acting.
Pellington also helps Baird with a number of outreach and marketing tasks, including creating a website for the new minor. She hopes that the work she is doing will inspire others to consider how sustainability can be incorporated into every aspect of their lives.
“When people think of sustainability, they often think about the environment, but it’s so much broader than that,” she said. “People can do good for our Earth in every field.”
For her part, Pellington plans to pursue a career as a sustainability consultant. “My skill set lies in communications, writing, and design, but I’ve always been passionate about the environment,” she said. “Consulting brings all of this together, so I can use communication, rhetoric, and business to further advance our collective sustainability initiatives.”
“Dr. Baird has been a key factor in that revelation for me,” Pellington continued. “Because of Pink Time, I discovered a passion that launched me into what I believe is going to be my future career.”