ES Students celebrating the Bicentennial

Colby College’s Environmental Studies (ES) Department celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011. Our ES department is one of the oldest and most distinguished environmental studies programs in the country. Faculty affiliated with the department have been leaders in innovative teaching and highly regarded for their scholarship, sustainability initiatives, and helping to develop environmental studies as a scholarly discipline. For example, Mitchell Family Professor of Economics emeritus Thomas Tietenberg helped to create the field of environmental economics, authored one of the most widely used textbooks in the field and most widely cited books on tradable permits, and he continues to have a profound influence on state, national, and international environmental policy. ES faculty have collaborated with colleagues at peer institutions to further develop environmental studies as a discipline, Colby was a founding member of the Northeast Environmental Studies (NEES) association in the early 1980s, and Colby faculty were founding members of the Association of Environmental Studies and Science. ES faculty, staff, and students have successfully promoted and initiated nationally recognized sustainability initiatives on campus and within our community, state, and beyond.

The largest interdisciplinary departments at Colby and one of the largest ES departments in the country based on number of dedicated ES faculty members, the ES department experienced several major transformations over the past four decades. The initial freestanding, interdisciplinary program had limited structure and no dedicated faculty positions. In the early 1980s, it was transformed into three environmental science concentrations offered by the Biology, Chemistry, and Geology Departments.

In 1991, the ES department was officially designated again as an interdisciplinary department and began offering a minor. In 1995, the ES department was awarded a faculty position in international environmental policy to be shared with the Government Department. This position, with the help of interested faculty in other departments, enabled the ES department to offer a new Environmental Policy major.

During the decade of the 1990s, the reputation of Colby’s academic departments in the fields of Environmental Science and Environmental Studies grew. Several components of our ES department were viewed as national models. In 1999, Colby received the first of three generous grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that transformed our department. The first two Mellon grants funded the hiring of a part-time ES Department Coordinator, student research assistant-ships for environmental studies majors, internships during the summers or in January term for students working on environmental projects, talks and lectures, and other department enhancements. Our ES Department Coordinators have been instrumental in adding programming, mentoring students outside the classroom, and building a sense of community with faculty, staff, and students through the production of a weekly newsletter and other modalities.

The first decade of the new century brought even more positive changes for ES including growth in faculty, expansion of our curriculum, increased faculty-student research and outreach activities, and dedicated space in the Diamond Building. In 2001, with the encouragement of the ES department, Colby formed the Environmental Advisory Group (EAG) to advise President Adams, senior administrators, and the Colby community on issues related to the environmental stewardship of the campus and region. ES faculty and students have been members of this committee since it’s beginning. In 2002, the Colby faculty approved a new interdisciplinary ES major in Environmental Science to complement the existing Environmental Policy major. These major tracks in policy and science share core courses. The interdisciplinary Environmental Science major features several focus areas (to promote depth) and a related capstone research course. In 2009, Colby acknowledged the importance and impact of the ES Department Coordinator position by making it a permanent, continuing part-time position.  In 2010, we added a third major track in environmental computing. In the last five years, the Biology and Geology concentrations in Environmental Science were discontinued, in part because of the strength of the new Environmental Science major. The Chemistry/Environmental Science concentration remains an alternative for interested students.

The Colby Strategic Plan in 2002 identified the ES department as a strategic priority of the College. Over the last decade, the ES department has evolved into a department of five faculty, a teaching assistant position, and a part-time department coordinator. Interest in environmental studies has grown dramatically from 5 majors in 1995 to 143 majors in 2014. We anticipate that the number of ES majors will continue to grow based on the positive student response to our project-based curriculum, dynamic new faculty, the strategic emphasis by the College, successful campus sustainability initiatives, achieving carbon neutrality, the rapidly growing interest in environmental issues on campus, and the data from the Admissions Office showing an expanding number of applicants who indicate an interest in the environment.

You can read more about the history of the ES Department in the The Colby Magazine Fall 2011 vol. 100 no.3. You could also view some snippets of the history of the ES’ department’s engagement in class and in the community.