EM SC 240N
Energy and Sustainability in Contemporary Culture

Meet the Instructor


Hi, everyone! My name is Dan Kasper, and I will be your instructor for this course. I am very much looking forward to working with all of you this semester! One of the great things about this course is that we are privileged to have students from a variety of professional, personal, and academic backgrounds enrolled. I embrace this type of diversity and view it as an asset, and I hope you all do too.

I grew up in a very small town in Central Pennsylvania (Milesburg) about 10 miles from State College – believe it or not, the townsfolk are still waiting for their first stop light. I enrolled at Penn State with the intention of becoming an engineer, but after trying out a few majors ended up deciding on Earth Science because it interested me the most. I've always been, and continue to be, fascinated by natural processes, from the tiniest processes such as soil formation to the large, dramatic processes such as mountain building. After earning my BS at University Park, I spun my wheels for a few years bartending (at the now closed Gingerbread Man) and working at the Center for Environmental Informatics at Penn State. I focused mostly on basic Geographic Information Systems (GIS) work at the latter job. I continued to use GIS throughout my academic career.

After a few years, my wife and I moved to Denver, Colorado, where I earned my MA in Geography from the University of Denver. My wife and I think very fondly of our time in Denver because we absolutely love the scenery, the people, and the active lifestyle there. (And we really miss the music scene as well.) I also spent some time in a Ph.D. program at the University of Delaware's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP). In my time at CEEP, I have engaged in a number of research projects, including analyzing a sustainable energy future for South Korea, a policy report on promoting personal food production in Delaware, and designing an energy education workshop series focusing on helping low and fixed income individuals take control of their energy use, among other topics. I now lilve in Wilmington, DE, very close to the Pennsylvania border with my wife and two daughters (now 14 and 10).

I worked as a curriculum designer and project manager for a weatherization training center in Philadelphia (focusing on low-income clients), and continue to consult in the energy efficiency and energy management fields, and serve on a non-profit board of directors (mostly focusing on low income advocacy). I currently teach full time in the Energy Technologies Department at Delaware Technical Community College in Newark, Delaware. We offer degrees in Energy Management and Renewable Energy Solar, and I teach courses for both degrees. While at Delaware Tech, I have taught courses in Sustainability, Residential and Commercial Energy Efficiency, Human Geography, Renewable Energy, Solar Design, Energy Accounting, and Energy Investment Analysis. I currently lead a team of students in performing ASHRAE Level II energy audits.

two men standing in nacelle of wind turbine
Your fearless instructor in the nacelle of a 50m tall wind turbine in Denmark (I am on the left). In the background is a quintessential Danish countryside.
Credit: D. Kasper

In the summer of 2019, I took Penn State students to Colorado to talk to a number of individuals who have engaged in applied sustainability. The goal of the course was to have the students learn about applied sustainability projects first-hand and create proposals for their own projects. I ran this course again in the summer of 2022, and may offer it in the future. The scenery was incredible, and the people we visited were inspiring. Here is the itinerary, in case you are interested. If we do offer it again, I will let you know. If you are an ESP major this would count toward your Foreign Studies/Internship course, which is required for graduation. In this course we will cover additional topics including permaculture, water policy, anaerobic digestion, food and farming, and waste management. 

 A group of Penn State students standing in front of mountain scenery with a Penn State flag
One of our site visits in Colorado was a micro-hydroelectric (micro-hydro) installation on an off-grid home in Paonia, Colorado. Click on the image for a larger view.
Credit: D. Kasper

My academic, professional, and personal focus has for a long time been on figuring out ways to live more sustainably and helping others to do the same while doing what I can to advocate for and establish socially just and ecologically responsible ways of living. I have helped establish multiple community gardens and am a firm believer in harvesting the grassroots power of communities (sorry for the double pun). Over the years, I have realized that getting something done is mostly a two-step process: 1) Find like-minded people who also want to get it done. 2) Do it! There are, of course, a lot of devils in the details, and you don't always end up getting what you desired, but the journey is always worth it! I have served on a number of college and civic committees, all of which focused on various aspects of sustainability.

I developed this course in the Summer and Fall of 2015 and have been teaching it every semester since. The most difficult part of the design was figuring out what not to include. There are so many interesting and important topics in sustainability that it would be impossible to get to them all in one course or even an entire degree. I hope that in addition to learning a lot, you will find the content inspiring and continue to educate yourself.

I have worked since I was very young and worked throughout college. I know that many - if not all - of you are working and have families, and believe me, I can relate. I had my first daughter early in my Ph.D. program. You wouldn't believe how many papers I've written with an infant on my lap! Please know that I commend you for your decision to continue your education with so many other things begging for your time. I hope I can be helpful to you on this leg of your academic journey.

One of my favorite quotes is: “Climb to the top of the mountain so you can see the world, not so it can see you” (unknown author). I hope that this course, and I, can help you take some steps closer to whichever mountain top you are trying to reach.