April 26, 2016

Cornellians Aim To Launch New Cross-College Environment and Sustainability Major

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Faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences hope to launch a cross-college Environment and Sustainability major in the fall of 2017, according to a report from the Committee on Interdisciplinary Curricula in Environmental Studies and Environmental Sciences.

The new major will combine with the environmental and sustainability science major — which is currently offered in CALS — according to Prof. Christine Goodale, ecology and evolutionary biology, the proposal committee’s chair.

The curriculum of the environmental studies major will allow students to concentrate in environmental “studies” or “humanities” and take courses tailored to their concentration, according to Prof. Jim Lassoie, natural resources.

“There is [also] positive support for an intro course, periodic colloquia and a capstone course where students in all concentrations have the opportunity to interact with each other,” Lassoie said.

Alina Carrillo ’18 — who will serve on a committee for determining the major’s curriculum — said the major’s structure will make it easier for students to focus on the areas of environmental studies they are interested in.

“The new major overall includes a significantly smaller core than the current ESS major,” Carrillo said. “This allows for a greater emphasis on the concentrations.” Lassoie added that the specifics of the major — including its administrative structure, courses and name — are still under discussion and will need to be finalized before it can be introduced.

Faculty members decided to develop plan for the major in response to growing demand from students currently majoring in environment and sustainability science, according to Lassoie.

“The environmental studies concentration [in ESS] had fewer intro requirements and allowed students to custom upper-division courses to meet special interests,” Lassoie said. “Some students used it to create unique curricula, while others used it to circumvent distasteful and often difficult chem and math courses.”

Lassoie said the major had been proposed in the past, but was met with insurmountable obstacles at the time.

“Those in the bio or physical sciences demanded a lot of intro math, chemistry, physics [and] biology in order to qualify as being an environmental sciences curriculum,” Lassoie said. “Those representing the social sciences and humanities argued that this would greatly limit the student participation.”

Carrillo said she believes the new major’s multidisciplinary curriculum could give students opportunities for innovation, accompanied by new responsibilities and challenges.

“The cross-college major affords the opportunity to innovate beyond traditional disciplinary borders in order to address the pressing environmental issues of our time,” she said.