Agroecosystems Analysis (SusAg 509), a required course for all majors in Iowa State University’s Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture, provides an immersion experience in the situated challenges of sustainable agriculture. The field portion of SusAg 509, which takes place every year during the first two weeks of August, brings students face-to-face with different understandings of sustainability and the diverse complexity of Midwestern agriculture. Dialogue and reflection turn the raw stuff of experience into learning, as students discover the power and validity of multiple perspectives. More than two dozen site visits help make abstract concepts, such as the economy and social relationships, real. The course succeeds (based on evidence such as capacity enrollments, course evaluations, and program exit interviews) because of its problem-focus and immediacy: it engages the real world, as it is now, not as it has become institutionalized in disciplinary departments.

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