#EarthDay50 Teach-Out engages with environmental justice, sustainability themes to inspire action

Michigan News

Event: Earth Day at 50 Teach-Out


What does the future of sustainability mean to you?

The answer to that question can look very different in the eye of the beholder but can create productive conversations about our biggest environmental issues and help us work toward solutions. This is the approach that design managers of the Earth Day at 50 Teach-Out, Annie Sadler and Benjamin Morse from the Center of Academic Innovation, chose to engage with participants for Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary coming up this April.

A teach-out is an opportunity for online learners to immerse themselves in discussions addressing society’s most difficult topics. There is no graded content, nor testing, which allows participants to focus instead on personal and collaborative reflection. For the Earth Day at 50 Teach-Out, learners can expect video content on a wide array of sustainability topics and opportunities to connect with other participants around the world.

“The teach-out is designed to provide maximum access and accessibility, and to bring people together to discuss such a salient social topic,” Morse said. “We want to use this teach-out to reimagine our future and reflect on our past by leveraging our technologies to reach a large audience.”

The online learning opportunity will start with an exploration of the roots of Earth Day at the U-M campus, which will be led by Matt Lassiter, Professor of History, Urban and Regional Planning, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, along with Brian Williams, an archivist from the Bentley Historical Library and some of the original Environmental Action for Survival (ENACT) activists who initiated the first Teach-In for the Environment on Earth Day in 1970. Through sharing their stories, the stage will be set for participants to jump into a discussion on the history of sustainability.

Perspectives on a variety of other sustainability-related topics will be discussed by faculty, students, researchers and community members.

Topics include global sustainability efforts, policy and legal issues, climate change and environmental justice. These topics will be approached through a future-oriented lens, an experience for participants designed to spark curiosity, questions and conversation but also recognizing that these are complex and open-ended questions.

“The topics that we discuss in these teach-outs are not easy topics,” Sadler said, “That’s what makes these teach-outs so special: we are able to have meaningful nuanced conversations online, conversations that don’t just exist in-person. It’s a wonderful example of how — especially now given the recent COVID-19 crisis — we can still engage with each other on difficult and challenging questions.”

For further learning on a variety of other topics such as self-driving cars, fake news, and gun violence, past teach-outs are archived and available view on Michigan Online. 

Date: April 6th – 30th 2020


Sponsor: Center for Academic Innovation, EarthDay@50

Additional Information:

On April 22, 2020, the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, an annual event meant to bring people together from across the world in protest, solidarity, and conversation about how to collectively fight for a sustainable and just world. In this teach-out, participants will explore the origins of Earth Day 1970 with student activists from Environmental Action for Survival (ENACT), an environmental student group from the University of Michigan, whose efforts led to a massive “Teach-In on the Environment” which drew tens of thousands of people. This was just one of many teach-in events that took place in 1970 and kicked-off Earth Day as we know it.

Fifty years later, the “teach-out” will engage participants in an intergenerational and interdisciplinary conversion about what sustainability means across different sectors, disciplines, and lived experiences. 

Experts on the teach-out (from U-M, unless otherwise noted):


  • Matt Lassiter, professor of History, Urban and Regional Planning, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor 
  • Brian Williams, assistant director and archivist for University History in the Bentley Historical Library
  • David Allen, professor emeritus, School for Environment and 
  • Sustainability and co-founder of ENACT 
  • Elizabeth Kingwell, George Coling, and Art Hanson, ENACT activists
  • Barbara Alexander: environmental activist and U-M alumna
  • Meghan Clark, Hannah Thomas, Basil Alsubee: current and former U-M students 
  • Matt Woodbury, lecturer and Environmental Justice History Lab project coordinator

Future of Sustainability:


  • Cameron Gibelyou, academic program officer associate, School of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Justin Joque, visualization librarian, U-M Library
  • Maricela Avalos, data & GIS specialist, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and U-M Campus Farm
  • Dick Chase, physics alumnus


  • Todd Allen, chair and professor, Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences
  • Johanna Mathieu assistant professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department  
  • Sarah Mills, research area specialist, Ford School of Public Policy
  • Jessica Fogel, professor emerita of dance
  • Greg Less, technical director, battery user laboratory 


  • Neda Masoud, assistant professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Paul Draus, professor of sociology at U-M Dearborn


  • Jonathan Overpeck, dean, School for Environment and Sustainability 
  • Michaela Zint, associate dean for academic affairs and professor, School for Environment and Sustainability


  • Keesa Johnson, graduate student, School of Arts and Design 
  • Trish Koman, research investigator, School of Public Health
  • Pamela Ruiter-Fennstra, carillonist & carillon Instructor 
  • Xiaoying Pu, doctoral candidate, Computer Science and Engineering


  • Craig Stephan, retired physicist, Ford Motor Company and Climate Activist 

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