Initial Publication Date: April 25, 2012

The Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Major at Emory University

Anne Larson Hall, Environmental Studies, Emory University

The Department of Environmental Studies at Emory University is an interdisciplinary undergraduate department in a private liberal arts college within a university with many highly regarded divisions including a Medical School, School of Public Health, Law School, School of Theology and Business School. The Environmental Studies major includes tracks for a B.S., B.A., and B.S./M.P.H. and also for a minor. With a strong university-wide health focus (Medical School, School of Public Health), our department has built links with the School of Public Health through a 5-year B.S./M.P.H. degree. With the Goizueta Business School, we have developed a Concentration in Business for the ENVS major, as well as a Concentration in Environmental Studies for the Business major. We link well across the campus with Humanities, offering cross-listed and elective courses in Religion, History, Art History, East Asian Studies, Music and Visual Arts. Although most of our courses address issues of sustainability, our campus also has an Office of Sustainability Initiatives that is very active in educating and involving our community in sustainability. Within Emory College, students can pursue an interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability. Although the home for this minor is not in the Department of Environmental Studies, many of our courses are listed as electives for fulfilling the minor requirements. Our department is in the process of proposing a graduate degree program focusing on Natural Resource Management, Ecology and Conservation.

Our department of 12 faculty includes 4 geologists. Earth Science is one of the intermediate breadth areas in which students are required to take at least one course for the major; the other areas are Social Science and Policy and Ecology and Conservation. Our geoscience faculty teach courses in climatology, meteorology, water resources, health and geology, physical and historical geology, field geology and ecology, paleontology, and environmental studies. We have each had to stretch our disciplinary training in this interdisciplinary approach to Environmental Studies and often co-teach courses with faculty grounded in different disciplines.

The overarching goal of our department is to provide interdisciplinary training for addressing complex environmental challenges. It is not possible to understand or manage complex systems from a single disciplinary perspective. Solutions require not only a strong natural science foundation, but also knowledge of social, economic and political concepts and decision-making strategies.

The strengths of the design of our program are our interdisciplinary perspectives and the variety of independent and group projects within the department that are available to students. Students become involved in research through a sequence of courses, 299/399/499, that build the skills needed to succeed in independent research projects. Research and coursework provide opportunities for students to become engaged at the local, regional and international scales. Students are encouraged to get out in the field early and all students are required to complete one field course. With strong geology, ecology, social science and health-related coursework in our department, we provide a wide-ranging foundation for students in integrative environmental scholarship and research. We are working toward strengthening our community engaged learning and research by initiating a new track for students, a B.S. in Research and Engaged Learning. This new track will allow students to pursue independent research and community involvement in greater depth, whether from a social science or natural science perspective.

One of the challenges of implementing and running our program is establishing a graduate program in our department. Graduate students from allied divisions participate in our department's research projects, but we hope to grow our own graduate program. Another challenge is establishing a strong department that is independent, yet linked to divisions across the university and within the college.

The ENVS major prepares students to continue in professional schools such as Law or Public Health, graduate programs in such fields as entomology, biology, geology, wildlife management and conservation, or urban and regional planning. Some students pursue teaching or work with non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies such as the U.S.G.S., or find work opportunities related to sustainability or environmental health and safety within business or industry. Our students are able to continue in a wide range of career paths due to their broad interdisciplinary training, through coursework, research, outreach and internships that provide the skill sets needed for our students to pursue their field of interest.

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