Cameron Pollack / Sun Senior Photographer

Prof. Christine Goodale, ecology and evolutionary biology, the chair of the proposal committee, speaks about a potential environmental studies major at forum Tuesday.

January 27, 2016

Students, Faculty Discuss Potential Environmental Studies Major

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Students and faculty from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences gathered at a forum Tuesday to discuss the introduction of an environmental studies major.

The major would span both colleges with concentrations in areas including environmental humanities, ecology and economics, according to Prof. Christine Goodale, ecology and evolutionary biology, the chair of the proposal committee. The College of Arts and Sciences does not currently offer environmental science as a field of study.

According to Goodale, the proposed major would give students more opportunities to explore areas in the humanities related to the environment.

“The initial vision for this major was that it provided training in environmental science with exposure to both natural science and some social science and a bit of humanities,” Goodale said.

If successfully proposed, the major would combine with or be offered alongside the environmental science and sustainability major in CALS, which was first introduced in 2012.

“Rather than trying to duplicate efforts or try to compete majors across the colleges, we tried to think about how they could leverage and build off one another,” Goodale said.

Prof. Sara Pritchard, science and technology studies, a member of the proposal committee, said several members were concerned that the environmental studies major was “more of a top-down initiative” and lacked enough faculty and student interest to establish.

Pritchard said one of the motivations for Tuesday’s meeting was to get a sense of whether “there are larger initiatives within departments at various scales that could be catalyzed by a fully established environmental major.”

Several Arts and Sciences students expressed their support for the proposal at the forum.

“If this had been implemented when I was a freshman or sophomore, I probably would have applied,” said Jocelyn Li ’16.

Students added that they were frustrated with the lack of a centralized environmental science field in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Two options emerge [for these students] — either they transfer to CALS, or try and fit their interest within usually biology or earth and atmospheric sciences, neither of which really is tailored toward their environmental science interest,” said Celina Scott-Buechler ’18.

Faculty members also shared stories of similar interdisciplinary environmental courses they taught or created.

“[‘The Environmental Imagination in American Literature’] was half CALS students and half Arts and Sciences students,” said Prof. George Hutchinson, English, who taught the class in the fall of 2013.

Scott-Buechler said this is a major offered at other colleges, and she hoped the proposed major would become available to students soon.

“Cornell doesn’t really offer it and most other colleges and universities do, and we seem to be a bit behind,” she said.

According to Goodale, the idea of a cross-college environmental major was raised five years ago, and a committee dedicated solely to developing the major was appointed last fall.

“A lot of it’s been political and logistical sorting out of details, but I’m optimistic,” Goodale said.