‘Thirsty Society’: Interdisciplinary course delves into the study of waterDrs. Eric Peterson and Joan Brehm are co-teaching a new course dev...‘Thirsty Society’: Interdisciplinary course delves into the study of water
Drs. Eric Peterson and Joan Brehm are co-teaching a new course developed by the Center for a Sustainable Water Future.
The Center for a Sustainable Water Future was created in 2018 to fulfill three main goals: research and scholarship, civic engagement and outreach, and curriculum. Through the introduction of a new, co-taught class, the center is satisfying its curriculum goal and offering a holistic view of water’s roles across society.
“From economics to food systems, to public health, policy, engineering, and technology—water is everywhere. This class helps students understand the centrality of water in their lives and their future,” said Dr. Joan Brehm, a professor in and the chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
“Thirsty Society: An Interdisciplinary Examination of Water” integrates information from the natural and social sciences to create a unified understanding of the societal roles of water. Brehm, who is also the co-director of the Center for a Sustainable Water Future, is teaching the 100-level course alongside Dr. Eric Peterson, University Professor in the Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment and coordinator of the hydrogeology program.
Planning for the course and the incorporation of the dual-professor model began a year and a half before the pair began co-teaching in spring 2021.
“Solving the problems of water requires an understanding of everything from the science of water quality all the way through to the policy impacts and social implications,” Brehm said. “We had to do some convincing, but I’m very grateful for the fact that we had support from department chairs and college deans that saw the value in this kind of approach.”
Both professors are present during class sessions. In lectures and discussions, Brehm covers the social-science content, touching on topics like public policy and access and equity, while Peterson handles the natural science side, focusing on water quality and the impacts of weather and climate.
“We also work to integrate small group discussions so students can sit back and think about what we’ve talked about,” Peterson said. “Whether or not the discussions get really deep, that’s not necessarily a requirement as much as thinking and talking about class topics and being engaged. That’s where curiosity gets built and where they start to see some of the real-world connections.”