logo for The Signal

Lauren Madden. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Madden.)

By Tristan Weisenbach | The Signal

This story was produced in collaboration with The Signal (TCNJ) and CivicStory as part of the Ecology-Justice Reporting Fellowship.

At The College [of New Jersey], students can now enroll in a five-course minor of environmental sustainability education—the only such program in New Jersey that is accredited by the North American Association of Environmental Education.

The minor, which consists of three core courses, one science elective, one non-science elective, and one independent study, comes thanks to the efforts of Lauren Madden, Ph.D., a professor of early childhood education. Madden has dedicated much of her research to environmental science and currently coordinates both the minor and TCNJ’s graduate certificate in environmental sustainability and education. 

It took Madden and her colleagues several years to get the environmental sustainability education minor approved by the College, as the process required a lot of outreach to professors in other departments for approval to count their courses toward the minor. And without a surplus of curriculum templates, she spent significant time seeking out and studying environmental education material from Canada in developing the minor.

“They had a lot more compulsory environmental ed in schools there, so a lot of what we recommended for our curriculum came from Canadian textbooks. We wanted to make sure everything we were doing prepared teachers effectively,” Madden said.

One of Madden’s main goals is to provide teachers with the tools to better understand their students’ needs. Madden explained that students who live in areas that are more often impacted by the effects of climate change, such as flooding, need teachers who can explain why these environmental conditions are occurring. As such, her recent efforts have been focused on growing the graduate certificate in environmental sustainability and education, which launched in 2020. 

“I have two grants that are sort of out in the air right now,” Madden said. “We’re hoping one or both hit soon, to fund fellowships for teachers to come and take the courses of the graduate certificate and hopefully build our program a little bit further.”

Madden has also worked to expand climate change education in K-12 schools by collaborating closely with the New Jersey Department of Education and the state’s First Lady’s office. Along with other climate educators, Madden reviewed the state’s climate education standards and provided broad feedback on drafts. In 2020, New Jersey became the nation’s first state to require climate change education in all grade levels across nearly all subject areas in public schools. 

Thanks to the efforts of sociology professor Diane Bates in collaboration with Madden, the college is also launching a new environmental studies major this fall. Madden also helped secure a partnership with New York City’s American Museum of Natural History that will allow students enrolled in the graduate certificate program to count courses in the museum’s Seminars on Science virtual learning series toward their certificate—an opportunity she says will be rolled out in the coming weeks.

Regarding the future of environmental education, Madden stressed again the importance for educators to meet the needs of their students, whether they’re “a kindergarten teacher or a college professor.”

“People who are going to teach in those schools need to be prepared to explain what’s happening, as well as meet the social, emotional needs and shift the type of teaching that they’re doing so they can still effect change and help kids,” she said. “And yes, that’s climate change education. But it’s also: are we making sure that we’re preparing future teachers in a way that meets the future needs of our students?”


headshot of tristan w.


Tristan Weisenbach is the Managing Editor of The Signal (TCNJ) and a CivicStory Reporting Fellow. This story was produced in collaboration with The Signal and CivicStory as part of the Ecology-Justice Reporting Fellowship.

Share This

Share this story with your social networks