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Abstract

Higher education Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs currently offer the theoretical knowledge and industry-related competences that seek to prepare STEM graduates to be leaders to meet 21st century demands. In this research, the authors examined the top 20 STEM Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the United States with a goal of establishing any obvious nexus between school reputation, sustainability approaches, and community inclusion. The underlying premise rested in the assumption that schools with the highest STEM program reputation are also the leaders in sustainability initiatives and projects in the respective academic and geographical communities. The findings revealed that on-campus efforts mainly focused on environmental actions, while community engagement projects emphasized the social or economic principles of sustainability. Consequently, the lack of synthesis of projects or initiatives that linked all three tenets of sustainability was the identified gap between what students are learning theoretically in the classroom and the subsequent application in the real world. By making these critical connections, STEM HEIs will produce change agents with a more intrinsic perspective on sustainability rather than one that is gained in a piecemeal manner after they enter their respective professions. By utilizing the tenets of the transformative learning theory, the results from this exploratory study will be employed to create a future model for not only teaching sustainability in STEM programs but, by coupling theory with actions, the results will foster engagement that ensures sustainable development is not an objective but an ingrained mindset that is practiced in daily actions.

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