This past Tuesday, faculty members voted to expand the Environmental Studies Certificate Program into a linked-major program beginning next semester. The new Environmental Studies major (ENVS) will combine several disciplines—including biology, psychology, economics and dance—in its study of environmental issues.

“Environmental studies includes environmental science, but it also includes the legal, social, ethical, artistic, historical, governmental, economic, anthropological, sociological components of the environment,” explained Barry Chernoff, Professor of Biology and Earth & Environmental Sciences (E&ES).

According to Chernoff, the major will require students to complete seven credits in the program, including one course each in three core areas of study: ethics and social justice; policy, economics and governance; and science. The remaining four electives may be chosen to form a thematic concentration of the student’s choice. 

Because it is a ‘linked’ major, ENVS students will be required to major in another primary field in conjunction with Environmental Studies.  

“What you often see is that people who work on environmental issues come in as specialists and collaborate together,” Chernoff said. “What we want is for students to get a primary major to get a real depth of understanding, and then apply that in the environmental arena.” 

Courses offered in the Environmental Studies major will cover many disciplines; from the sciences to philosophy, from the arts to economics and government. The department will also be bringing in outside faculty to teach additional courses, which will be partially funded by a Mellon Foundation Grant.

A senior capstone experience is also included in the major, which will require students to submit a senior project on an environmental topic related to their primary major, which can take the form of a thesis, essay, artwork or dance piece. The project will then be presented to ENVS seniors and faculty at a Senior Colloquium.  

“You’re applying your strength toward an environmental theme or issue,” Chernoff said. “This is set up so that students from all parts of the University, from all primary majors, can participate.”

The proposal for the Environmental Studies major was brought to the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) in late January. The 15 professors who proposed the idea hail from a wide range of departments; E&ES, Biology, Government, Philosophy, Dance, English, German Studies Department, and Economics.

“We think it’s a good idea because at this time in the United States, the critical issues facing us today are all environmental issues,” Chernoff said. “Climate change, food production, human health, access to resources, environmental justice…these are all important. It’s taken a number of years to put together a constituency across the campus and a proposal that reflects the needs of all students, but we’re very excited about it.” 

Chernoff has been instrumental in coordinating the Feet to the Fire project, which explores issues of global climate change through the lenses of art and science, and has expressed a special interest in combining the two disciplines. He noted that the Rice Show—an installation and performance art exhibit commissioned as part of Feet to the Fire that used grains of rice to represent various statistics and data related to climate change—saw more attendees than any other exhibit at the Zilkha Gallery, with 1,744 people visiting in 10 days. 

According to Chernoff, the E&ES Department is looking to spread awareness about the new major through the class deans and its website. Information and courses for the major are currently available on WesMaps. Chernoff will also be announcing the introduction of the program during the Earth Day celebration this upcoming Wednesday.

“I think of Wesleyan students as being very active and thoughtful, and these are the types of students who will now be able to participate in a major where they can form their own opinions and go out into societies across the world and contribute their knowledge and passions about the environment,” Chernoff said.

Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) President Mike Pernick ’10 was present during Tuesday’s vote, and he expressed a keen enthusiasm for the new initiative. 

“I think the cornerstone of a Wesleyan education is the idea of academic flexibility, and the new Environmental Studies major provides phenomenal new opportunities for students who want to get involved in a very salient issue, while maintaining flexibility to explore other academic fields,” Pernick said in a phone interview. “I’m very excited, and I’m very glad the faculty have approved it. It’s something that students have been coming up to talk with me about, and it really is a big step for the University.”

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