STARS As Undergrad Seminar Course (STARS)

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2 replies [Last post]
Joined: Dec 23 2008

This post is related to STARS, AASHE's Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System.

I have an opportunity to teach an Honors Mini-Seminar during the spring semester and am planning to have the class conduct the STARS inventory on our campus as their project. Am interested in feedback from those who have used students to conduct the STARS as part of their classwork as well as syllabi and specific learning outcomes if you're willing to share. Any assistance greatly appreciated.


Brian Hagenbuch

Director, Pine Lake Institute for Environmental and Sustainability Studies

Hartwick College

Oneonta, NY 13820

AASHE Member
Joined: Dec 23 2008

Dear Brian,

I am a sustainability coordinator at UCSB and am currently working with a professor on my campus, Dr. Simone Pulver to organize a course on STARS (ES 106, Critical Thinking About Environmental Solutions).  The course is this quarter, started late September and ending early December. We are attempting it with a very large group of students - 75 in fact - and so are dealing with slightly different issues.  

That said, here are some pieces of advice that I think will be relevant to a smaller course:

Course Description:

In this course, we will critically evaluate solutions to environmental problems, including those based on information, values, incentives, technology and social action. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each solution? Which is appropriate to which situation? How can they be combined? What are the characteristics of effective solutions? To aid our critical thinking, the course will involve a hands-on project. Working in small teams, students will assist the UCSB Sustainability Office by collecting and analyzing data to assess UCSB’s sustainability performance. The data will be submitted to the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Ratings System (STARS), which is used to measure the sustainability performance of institutions of higher education throughout the US.


1. Develop a matrix of which staff on campus that should be contacted for each credit before the course begins.  All the staff on the list should be contacted ahead of time so that you can set the expectation that students will be contacting them and that the staff should start thinking about what data needs to be pulled together ahead of time.   The students can go from utility bills to STARS documentation, but collecting the utility bills should happen before the course starts.  Sometimes those basic information requests take a lot of time to pull together.  We are in a quarter system, 10 week courses, so time is very critical to us.  I will email you our matrix, so you can build off of our format if you want to.

2.  Dedicate some time earlier in the quarter to talk to the students about how to interact with staff and rules for professionalism.  Set the expectation that staff should take 3-4 days to get back to them and may take a full week if they have a large request.  Make sure they understand the time contraints on staff and that the staff are supportive of their work but overloaded and so if they don't get back to the students right away it is not out of apathy or negative feelings.  We have had a lot of furloughs, so we have to make sure students are aware of these time constraints.

3. Plan on the final product being a "draft" and ensure that someone else can review the data for accuracy before it is submitted to STARS after the class is over. I learned this from working on other similar projects.

4. Remind the students that their goal is to assess not to score well and that it is ok not to get some of the credits.  The students can get disheartened if they are assigned credits that the school doesn't get points for. 

5. All of this info is on the STARS website, but I felt it was helpful for course planning and building assignments to get a breakdown of how many credits are in each section.  To the below we added number of stakeholders (campus staff) that should be contacted to collect data in each section:

Education and Research
4 Credits
8 Tier Two Credits (These are smaller credits, worth less points, that can be completely quickly)

10 credits
No tier two

5 credits
No Tier two


3 credits
No tier two

2 credits
2 Tier two

Dining Services
1 credit
10 Tier two

2 credits
6 Tier two

1 credit
5 Tier two

4 credits
2 Tier two

3 credits
12 Tier two

5 credits
6 Tier two

2 credits
5 Tier two


Coordination and Planning
5 credits
No tier 2

Diversity and Affordability
5 credits
3 Tier two

Human Resources
5 credits
3 Tier two

3 credits
3 Tier two

Public Engagement
7 credits
3 Tier two credits

TOTALS (All three sections)
67 Credits
71 Tier Two credits

I will also email you the syllabus and project assignment for the STARS assessment.


Best Regards,

Katie Maynard

AASHE Member
Joined: Nov 3 2009

Here is some of the information from the course syllabus from the University of Vermont. Tatiana Abatemarco and I taught the Campus Sustainability course last spring and used STARS as our main focus. I'd be happy to share the full syllabus. You can email me at For this course, we focused on the Operations credits.


Course Description:
This course will provide students with a real time exploration of frameworks, methods, policies, procedures, and interaction with stakeholders related to furthering sustainability practices within organizations. The University of Vermont will be used as the primary case study to investigate its institutional practices related to sustainability and the associated roles of members of the campus community. The campus serves as a living laboratory for identifying, evaluating and assessing indicators of progress. Particular attention will be given to empowering students with the knowledge, organizational skills, and confidence to develop their own capacities as change agents for fostering a greater institutional commitment to sustainability. Students will apply their learning by developing assessment reports for programs on campus, working in service to UVM’s Office of Sustainability.

Essential Questions:
How do you evaluate the sustainability of a place? How do you make changes based on that information?
What does it mean to be a “sustainable campus”?

Course Objectives:
• To learn about campus operation systems
• To introduce frameworks, tools, and delivery methods used in institutional sustainability
• Program assessment and reporting information
Class Format: The class will include a mixture of field trips, lectures, and discussions. As a Service-Learning course, we will emphasize the reflective process of learning in class discussions and assignments.

Course Texts:
Degrees that Matter: Climate Change and the University by Ann Rappaport and Sarah Hammond Creighton
Additional reading will be available through the course blackboard site

Assignments: You will receive detailed descriptions for each assignment.
Reading: weekly reading assignments (see calendar for specific pages)
• 250 word reflections on weekly prompts
• Class preparation questions
• Program assessment report for one field trip (5 pages)
• Media Project
• STARS Group Project & Report