Oswego’s Lisa Glidden guides campus toward a green future

OSWEGO, N.Y. – Championing sustainability for a campus of thousands of students is a hard job, but it is one Professor Lisa Glidden has been doing for a decade now, among her many other important roles as a notable faculty member at SUNY Oswego.

Glidden, first hired on at Oswego in 2007, has many prominent positions on campus: she is the chair of the political studies department, director of both the global and international studies program and the Interdisciplinary Programs and Activities Center, and of course the coordinator for the sustainability studies minor.

“I have a challenge with taking too much on and, like, doing too much,” said Glidden. “And then not being effective at everything I’m doing.”

“I’m continuously amazed at how elegantly and gracefully Professor Glidden has pulled off each and every one of those commitments of hers,” said Kate Spector, campus sustainability manager and frequent collaborator of Glidden’s. “It’s amazing to understand that she does such a good job, and then you consider all the things that she’s excelling at.”

Despite her many preoccupations, Glidden still clearly exudes a passion for sustainability. In a recent meeting of her dedicated sustainability course, Economic and Political Foundations of Sustainability, she opened a dialogue with students, asking open-ended questions and speaking conversationally.

“I think I have pretty strong interpersonal skills,” said Glidden. “Speaking and writing clearly and plainly so that everyone can, you know, have the opportunity to understand what you’re saying.”

For Glidden, the reason for her interest in sustainability and its promotion is twofold: helping students to better understand the relationship between politics and sustainability and teaching them the benefits of action and critical thought.

“Part of it that is interesting is getting students to think sort of more systemically or structurally,” said Glidden. “Thinking about the topic in ways that they haven’t before, it’s always really satisfying.”

“I’m hoping that they can also take away that individuals can be very impactful on shaping those systems and structures,” said Glidden. “Being proactive about things can actually impact institutions.”

Besides her public-facing position as a professor, Glidden’s membership in many faculty committees has made a difference on campus.

“She has done everything to start this sustainability minor, and the numbers are exploding in that program,” said Spector. “On the back end of things, she’s been really active with some committees that have advanced that agenda and made that, built that to be a top priority of our institution.”

 Glidden’s appreciation for sustainability has deep roots, going back from her adolescence to her graduate studies.

“I guess I was originally inspired in high school, you know, in the ‘80s,” said Glidden. “At that point, we called it global warming, but there was already, like, a lot of movement on sustainability issues, and sustainable development issues and environmental issues.”

With an educational background in political studies and international relations, Glidden focused on sustainability from the perspective of a global political researcher.  

“So when I got my master’s degree, I looked at cross-border interactions among, like, environmental organizations,” said Glidden. “So, like, even on my social movement stuff, environmental things were still of interest to me.”

Glidden said she appreciates SUNY Oswego’s willingness to allow participation and creativity for its faculty and students, citing her time as a member of the Climate Academic Steering Committee, during which she helped create the sustainability studies minor in 2011.

That said, she also emphasized that there is still room to improve for the SUNY Oswego sustainability movement.

“I think one of the biggest challenges for promoting sustainability on campus is we don’t have a campus-wide requirement for some kind of sustainability related course,” said Glidden. “I think that would enable sustainability education to be much more impactful.”

As achieving sustainability in the form of carbon neutrality becomes more of a tangible goal for Oswego’s future, faculty like Glidden will be vital.

“I expect Lisa will be part of the team to work on this project,” said Spector. “I think this would be an amazing opportunity for students to get involved with actually, you know, the operations and the buildings that happen on this campus, and I expect that she would be key to making that happen.”

Ultimately, though, Glidden wants her legacy on campus to be one of encouraging students’ mental growth above all.

“Hopefully, they are learning to think critically about things, but they are learning to also research what is already in existence, and then they can see where they can fit in and help to move the ship, so to speak,” said Glidden. “Making them think, and kind of lighting a spark that they realize that they could do something.”