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The Curriculum and the Community, Viewed Through the Lens of Environmental Studies
On-campus interaction among disciplines and student organizations has long been part of the culture of Colby, and our students also pursue vigorously opportunities to integrate their academic projects with community needs and interests. This year’s report describes just one of several departments that utilize the income from unrestricted endowment to develop connections between academics and the campus, the community, and the world.
The Environmental Studies Program
Environmental studies emphasizes the scientific and interdisciplinary foundations that influence environmental planning and decision making. The Environmental Studies Program at Colby prepares students for roles as educated citizens in a world increasingly confronted with environmental challenges as well as for entry-level positions in firms or government agencies dealing with these problems and for graduate work in related areas.
At Colby the Environmental Studies Program offers two majors. The first is an interdisciplinary major with a concentration in science that introduces students to national and global environmental issues and gives students the opportunity to focus on conservation biology, marine science, environmental chemistry, or environmental geology. The second is an interdisciplinary concentration in environmental policy. The foundation course in environmental studies is complemented by core courses in environmental economics, biology, ecology, chemistry or physics, geology, and mathematics. Students complete two courses focusing on humans and the environment. Seniors complete a capstone course related to their focus area.
F. Russell Cole, Oak Professor of Biological Sciences, directs the Environmental Studies Program, and Philip Nyhus, assistant professor of environmental studies, teaches courses with a concentration in policy and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Assistant Professor Liliana Botcheva-Andonova splits her teaching duties between environmental studies and government. Her special interest is international environmental regimes. Botcheva-Andonova’s replacement while she is on sabbatical is Catherine Ashcraft, visiting instructor in environmental studies and government, who is teaching courses on policies for environmental negotiation and dispute resolution. Manuel Gimond is Colby’s GIS and quantitative analysis specialist and a research scientist in the Environmental Studies Program. The program also has an interdisciplinary advisory committee comprising Cole and Nyhus; David Firmage, Clara C. Piper Professor of Environmental Studies; D. Whitney King, Miselis Professor of Chemistry; James Webb, professor of history and director of the African Studies Program; and Catherine Bevier, professor of biology.
Environmental studies is the second largest interdisciplinary major and in the top ten ranking of number of majors per program/department on campus. Environmental studies is currently the most frequently cited area of interest on admissions applications. The discipline has grown from five majors in 1995 to 80 majors in the current academic year, with another 40 students selecting it as a minor. In addition to students majoring in environmental studies, more than 20 students are majoring in biology or chemistry with concentrations in environmental science, with courses taught by environmental studies faculty. With the growth in the numbers of students enrolled in environmental studies, the faculty is very pleased with the expanded space available in the new Diamond Building. Courses with a concentration in science remain in the F.W. Olin Science Center, and the concentration in policy is now housed in the Diamond Building, as is the GIS lab. The environmental studies seminar room in the Diamond Building provides many more opportunities for all of the students to work together. Prior to the opening of the Diamond Building, much of the interaction among courses and students had to be conducted online. Thus, environmental studies developed an expansive Web site that is still active, and we invite you to visit it at www.colby.edu/environ.
Environmental studies has initiated a wide range of innovations that have had College-wide implications. For example, environmental studies professors recognized over a decade ago that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) could promote spatial learning as well as interdisciplinary research, teaching, outreach, and collaboration. Not only is GIS an integral part of four courses in the environmental studies curriculum, it is also gaining in importance for students and faculty in other departments and programs, and the GIS course is always fully enrolled. Colby students have access to state-of-the-art GIS mapping tools that enable them to create sophisticated computerized maps, analyze complex spatial data, and produce professional-looking cartographic output.
The Environmental Studies Program also sponsors a vigorous speakers program open to all students and to the Waterville community, with formal evening lectures and frequent informal lunchtime lectures in Dana Hall. Most recently, on November 11, Mac Hunter, past president of the Society for Conservation Biology and professor of wildlife biology at the University of Maine in Orono, gave two lectures—Biodiversity: Buzzword or Fundamental Concept and Saving the Earth As a Career: Advice on Becoming a Conservation Professional.
Several components of Colby’s Environmental Studies Program are viewed as national models, e.g., its education-through-research pedagogy, its introductory Environment and Society course, and the senior capstone course, Problems in Environmental Science. Indicators of the success of Colby’s Environmental Studies Program are the grants awarded by major foundations. For the next two years, Janette Bulkan will be a visiting Mellon Fellow teaching international environmental human rights. Also with foundation funding, Gail Carlson, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies, whose areas of expertise include environmental health and toxicology and women and the environment, is again teaching her popular Environment and Human Health course as well as a new course on hazardous waste and environmental justice.
Student Research, Civic Engagement, and Campus Outreach
The Environmental Studies Program has a strong, project-based approach to learning that immerses students in research and analysis. This begins with the research component of the introductory course and continues through the senior capstone course. Students are encouraged to present the results of their research at local, regional, and national meetings. At Colby, the Environmental Science Program is a campus leader in incorporating civic engagement into the curriculum, and student research often involves projects that require civic engagement and/or campus outreach.
At the Climate Change conference held on the Orono campus of the University of Maine in October 2008, Rebecca Lipson ’09 was one of three students working with Russ Cole who presented posters based on their research at Colby. Lipson’s poster focused on the environmental initiatives Colby has been employing to mitigate climate change. Many of these initiatives are an outgrowth of previous environmental studies students’ research. Sarah Sorenson ’11 and Zachary Ezor ’10 authored the second poster, which described findings from Colby’s student-developed carbon emissions model. Their poster won first prize in its category at the conference.
Many environmental studies courses develop research projects in collaboration with agencies and organizations in Maine. To cite only a few examples: