Environmental Studies in demand

In response to growing demand for the major, the Program of Environmental Studies announced last week that the application deadline for the 7-year-old environmental studies major will be moved up from May 15 to March 27 and that the major may be capped due to limited faculty availability.

The earlier deadline will give the department time to determine how to meet the significant rise in student interest they have received this year, environmental studies chairman John Wargo said.

“EVST has felt growing demand in core courses, and we’ve seen an increase in the number of students who have expressed their intent to apply to the major,” Wargo said Monday.

As of yesterday, 17 sophomores had declared themselves environmental studies majors to the registrar and approximately 10 more had indicated interest to either Wargo or the new Environmental Studies Program Manager, Deborah Broadwater — nearly double the number of declared majors Wargo said the department could sustain. Currently, he said, 14 seniors and 15 juniors are enrolled in the major.

Indeed, a large number of applicants could pose problems for the small, interdisciplinary department, he said. The program’s intensive research requirement, summer internship and two-term senior essay place considerable demands on faculty advisers, all of whom have primary responsibilities in other departments or schools.

Currently, Wargo estimates that the department can accommodate 15 majors per year without compromising the quality of the major’s offerings.

Already, the major has grown since its inception in 2001. Last summer, Yale College and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies formed a partnership to manage the department and strengthen its course offerings, while the department moved into Kroon Hall in January. As a result, Wargo said, faculty participation in the major is stronger than it ever has been.

In light of faculty constraints and the projected budget cuts for next year, the department is now considering several different options to meet student demand while maintaining Environmental Studies’ high-quality program without spending more. The department is considering asking other current Yale faculty to help advise senior essays, capping sophomore enrollment in the major and offering approximately five new Environmental Studies–sponsored courses, he said.

The seven students interviewed said the potential decision to cap the major is disappointing but understandable.

“I’m not going to say I am thrilled at the prospect of being rejected from a major I am so passionate about,” Kate Grace ’11 said. “But if the increased involvement leads to more classes, professors or just heightened campus awareness, it will end up benefiting all of us — whether or not we apply and are admitted.”

Wargo and sophomores planning to apply to the environmental studies major attributed the significant jump in interest this year to a variety of factors, most notably the growing national focus on environmental issues and the increasing availability of career options in the field.

Wargo said students are attracted to environmental studies courses in part because of the widespread belief that sustainability and environmentalism is the way of the future.

“Many now see a ‘green economy’ as a responsible path out of the recession,” he said.

“It’s quite clear that the environment has become a much more pressing issue in the academic world, the media, the economy and pop culture,” Kelvin Vu ’11 said. “This popularity has not only legitimized the subject of study, but has also shown that there is a huge potential for innovation, global work, and employment in an area that was previously associated with hippies, tree-huggers and fanatics.”

Charles Zhu ’11 said he thought the “wave of environmentalism” was fueled by the change and reform themes surrounding Obama’s election and the economic recession.

Sophomores who apply to the major will be notified of their status by April 17, according to the Environmental Studies Web site, which will provide rejected students “earlier notice of the need to pursue other options.”

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