Kurt Teichert has worked at Brown for 22 years. His mandate has always been to create change, so it’s no surprise that this year he’s taken on a new role in a new context. For decades he taught and conducted research while he coordinated Brown’s environmental stewardship and sustainability programs under the Brown is Green Initiative. Now he’s joining the regular faculty as a senior lecturer who teaches and advises full-time.
His new appointment comes amid a sweeping institutional evolution in environmental scholarship at Brown. He’s been helping to lead the implementation of a new undergraduate curriculum in the Center for Environmental Studies, which this year has joined with the Environmental Change Initiative to form the Institute for the Study of Environment and Society.
“It’s an opportunity for us to up our game and be that much more effective and reach more people,” Teichert said. “I see it as aligning more resources to continue to do what we’re good at and to find new ways to be even better at things we haven’t even thought of yet.”
For Teichert, life at Brown has always been about improvement through new ways of doing things. He fondly recalls one of the earliest changes he made at Brown after arriving in 1992 from the New Alchemy Institute, a Cape Cod environmental sustainability think tank. He spearheaded an effort to replace the mechanical room motors in buildings across campus with premium efficiency ones.
“For me it was this great example of how a lot of the environmental action and opportunities that we have are not glitzy or sexy,” he said. “If you take something like that, that operates a system 24 hours in a building and improve its efficiency by 25 or 30 percent, that is a significant reduction and a cost-effective investment.”
Later in the decade when the University built MacMillan Hall, Teichert and others made sure to equip the building with occupancy sensors and daylight-sensing dimmers. As a chemistry and environmental research facility, MacMillan was not destined to be a low-energy building, but through innovations (for the time) in lighting technology, Teichert hoped to make the building as efficient as possible relative to other science teaching facilities.
“It was still a relatively new concept,” he said. “We pushed the designers on that project.”
A focus on teaching
In his teaching, for which he recently won the William G. McLoughlin award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences, Teichert said he tries to emphasize the impact and positive environmental results of action, for instance in policy or technology.
“In my work and in my classes some of the feedback that I get from students is that they like that it is solutions-oriented,” Teichert said. “There are so many things that we can do that are cost-effective.”
Over 20 years the subject matter in class has changed, and so have the students. They often come to college with a greater sophistication about environmental issues — more is taught in high schools now than in the ’90s — and that’s a good thing because the issues seem more complex. Shrinking the ozone hole proved to be a more attainable achievement than reversing global warming has been so far.
This fall, after a summer that included a program for local high school students and a pre-college course in the Brown Leadership Institute, Teichert will teach two classes at Brown: a class on building science (“Sustainable Design in the Built Environment”) and a first-year seminar called “Transcending Transportation Impacts,” taught in a new program that brings class meetings to seminar rooms in Brown residence halls.
Even more than the changes in the institution and in his role, Teichert sees in teaching the greatest source of rejuvenating change year after year.
“Even though I’ve been here for 22 years, and I’ve had a number of different jobs and job titles and places where the position has been,” Teichert said, “more than anything it is the constant interaction with the students and that constant renewal that comes with a graduating class moving on and a new class coming in.”