Environmental Studies program to be revised

The Environmental Studies Program is proposing revisions to its curriculum that would allow majors to gain background in an interdisciplinary core of courses while focusing more on their chosen track.

If approved, the changes would take effect during the next academic year. While current students would be able to choose between the new and current versions, the class of 2016 would complete the new program, according to the Director of the Environmental Studies Program and Professor of Biology Colin Orians.

The new curriculum will consist of a core of five specific required courses and a track of five specialized courses, according to Orians.

The three proposed tracks are environmental science, sustainability, policy, and equity and environmental communication.

The curriculum proposal will be discussed by the curriculum committee in a meeting at the end of this month and will then be voted on at a faculty meeting in April.

Orians said he hopes the new curriculum will attract more students by allowing for specialization and that it will better prepare graduates to pursue further studies in a specific area.

“My main idea around the changes of the curriculum was to increase depth around the different concentrations,” Orians said. “Part of it was to give certain skills, but also to get students in to smaller classes, upper−level classes.”

This year, two new faculty members were hired, and both will teach courses next fall in the environmental studies curriculum, Orians said.

The Geology department next year will conduct a search for a new professor who will be expected to specialize in climate change, according to Geology Professor Jack Ridge.

The environmental science track already exists but will be updated to balance with the new core curriculum, Orians said.

“[The new track] can also provide a science perspective to students who are not studying a science as their first major,” Ridge told the Daily in an email.

The sustainability, policy, and equity track will introduce students to different areas of sustainability and environmental justice, and will include an economics component to give students tools for policy−related work, according to Orians.

The Environmental Studies program and the Communications and Media Studies (CMS) Program are collaborating to form an environmental communication track targeted at students who have an interest in areas like journalism and filmmaking.

“We know a lot about environmental issues, but we’re not always very good at conveying it and effecting policy,” Orians said.

As it exists now, the major has a core of eight courses — which students select from a number of options under each category — and a track of three courses that students choose individually.

The current tracks are environmental science; environment and society; and environment and technology.

Another goal of these revisions is to create more of a community among environmental studies majors.

The current structure is such that many students never encounter others in their cohort, but the new, structured core curriculum should provide more opportunities for collaboration, allowing students to learn from each other, Orians explained.

An environmental studies major can only be pursued in combination with a second major, a policy that reflects its broad, interdisciplinary nature that is most useful when paired with another major to provide a clear focus, according to Rachael Wolber, an environmental studies and international relations double major.

The reaction of current environmental studies majors has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Wolber, a senior. She said that many seniors in the program wish that the changes had been made earlier so that they could benefit from the revisions.

“[It is] a positive step forward for the program,” she said.

Wolber was one of many participants in a focus group last fall, where current environmental studies majors were told the preliminary plan for the new program and were given the opportunity to offer input.

Wolber added that these changes coincide with a university−wide focus on environmental issues, an increased number of student majors and the growing opportunities for internships and research in the field.

The curriculum still in use today was originally established when the program was founded in 1984, Orians said.

According to Ridge, the environmental studies committee felt that these changes are very timely, if not overdue.

“The program has not been revised in many years and the character of the field has changed, as have environmental issues, over that period,” Ridge said.

“Our existing curriculum has served many students very well over the years, but it can become even better,” he added.