While plans for the new Molecular and Life Sciences building have been postponed, President Michael Roth’s initiatives to expand the range of science programs offered at the University will continue. A proposal will soon be submitted to the Educational Policy Committee to create an Environmental Studies major. If approved, this major would serve as a step in planning for the more expansive College of the Environment (COE), which would examine environmental issues from a multidisciplinary perspective.
“Every university is going to find that attracting students with fancy buildings is foolhardy,” Roth said. “We can continue to invest in faculty and the educational experience.”
Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies Barry Chernoff first proposed the idea of COE last year after looking at the interdisciplinary approach that other majors have adopted.
“I wished there was some way we could do something equivalent to COL (College of Letters) or CSS (College of Social Studies) for the environment,” Chernoff said. “Environmental issues are some of the most important facing our society and world.”
Currently, the University offers a certificate in Environmental Studies. COE, however, would provide a wider range of academic options for students, including the chance to collaborate with visiting experts in the field.
“We would like to have a think tank at the top of the College of the Environment where up to four specialists would come to Wesleyan for a year,” Chernoff said.
Chernoff explained that a group of 10 to 12 students would be selected to work with the specialists and faculty. The resulting student work produced in the think tank would count for the students’ senior capstone experience.
Such opportunities, Chernoff said, would make the program unique amongst other undergraduate environmental studies programs across the country. He adds that even many graduate programs only include aspects of what COE would encompass.
Emilie Kimball ’11, who expressed interest in COE, sees collaborating with visiting specialists as providing the potential to make further connections between academic study and real-world application.
“I think working with someone outside of Wesleyan is really helpful,” Kimball said. “It exposes you to more. It exposes you to the outside world which is where you are going after graduating.”
Students interested in the major would be expected to take both environmental science courses and classes within another major during their freshman and sophomore years. This second major would provide the extracurricular lens through which the student would study environmental issues. A COE major might concentrate, for example, on the effect of government, ethics or race on the environment. Once admitted into the major at the end of their sophomore year, students would then participate as juniors and seniors in small, discussion-based colloquiums similar to those seen in COL and CSS.
“If you really want to contribute in the environment you need a depth [of knowledge with a specialty],” Chernoff said.
Chernoff also hopes the major would provide internship opportunities for interested students, though he cautious that this will be difficult to realize, given the country’s current economic crisis.
“One of our dreams was to have sufficient moneys to have up to 10 student interns,” Chernoff said. “[We’re hoping for] enough funding for us to put students in organizations like NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund…anywhere in the world, and to provide for their living expenses.”
Monetary challenges will continue to complicate the implementation of COE for the foreseeable future.
“We are still at the infant stages of thinking this through,” Roth said. “It does call for significant resources.”
Kimball realizes that the program, while exciting, may come to fruition after she would be eligible to apply. She hopes to apply to the proposed Environmental Studies major.
“I think it’s a great new program and initiative to set up,” Kimball said. “Especially now that a lot of jobs will be opening up in this field. Creating a new College of the Environment is a great step to take.”
Chernoff is prepared to do whatever fundraising is necessary.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge,” Chernoff said. “We’re going to have to move more slowly and in cautious ways.”
He adds that he’s seen increasing interest in the environmental sciences during his time at the University and reports that 16 students graduated with the certificate in Environmental Studies last year. Ideally, the COE would help to match this growing student interest in environmental issues.
“For me this is a dream come true if we can pull it off,” Chernoff said.