FES loosens distribution requirements for master’s program

The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental studies is overhauling its most popular program, the master’s in environmental management (MEM).

The new master’s program, which has an incoming class of about 100 students, will allow more flexible coursework and more opportunities for advanced, in-depth study, said associate dean Jim Saiers, the chair of the curricular reform committee.

“These are graduate students,” Saiers said. “Many of them have a good idea what they want to work on, [so we’ve] got to leave some flexibility.”

Previously, the curriculum required that students complete seven distributional requirements before identifying an advanced study program and finishing a master’s degree project. Since only 16 courses are required for the two-year program, many students said the distribution requirements were excessive and prevented them from pursuing more in-depth study in their areas of interest, Saiers said.

In response, the school has cut distribution requirements from seven required introductory courses to five foundational courses — which students can place out of — and one integrated course taught by a variety of professors from different disciplines. To round out the curriculum, students can now pursue nine to 11 electives in the their areas of interest and finish with a capstone course or project designed to give them real-world environmental experience, Saiers said.

The hope is that the foundational courses will eliminate some of the unnecessary repetition in the old curriculum and allow students to customize their time at the school, said senior lecturer and curricular reform committee member Brad Gentry.

“Most of our students want to go off and solve environmental problems, save the world somehow,” Gentry said. But in order to do so, students need both an understanding of theory and an understanding of how to use that theory to solve problems, which the new curriculum seeks to provide, he added.

And though it is still early, three students said they are happy with the changes.

“I think [the changes] are very reasonable,” John D’Agostino FES ’12 said. “They’ve provided a really good framework.”

The new curriculum has allowed Naazia Ebrahim FES ’12 to opt out of four of the five foundational courses, enabling her to pursue more advanced study. She said she is happy with the new curriculum, but added that there is some overlap between classes. Because some courses covered similar topics, shopping them was important, she said.

John Good ’10 FES ’11, who completed the old requirements last year in the five-year joint degree program between Yale College and the environment school, said the creation of foundational courses were a positive change. But the courses could prove to be too loose to provide students with the foundation they need, he added.

Saiers said adjustments will be made to the curriculum based on student and faculty feedback over the next two years.

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