Environmental studies expands course offerings

Facing growing demand, the environmental studies program has expanded its course offerings this fall.

Since the program graduated its first class of four students in 2004, the major has steadily grown to 31 students in this year’s class of seniors. This fall, the program includes five additional courses that seek to meet the higher demand and strengthen previously underemphasized areas. The new courses this term include a practical writing course, two courses that feature field studies and a course on sustainability.

Amity Doolittle, director of undergraduate studies for environmental studies, said she hopes to hire additional faculty to deal with the larger number of students and course offerings, but said funding constraints currently limit faculty growth. Doolittle said she hopes the program will eventually be able to accumulate the funds to build an endowment and establish an Environmental Studies Department with permanent faculty, though she added that it is unlikely that the major will evolve into a department any time soon.

“The major currently depends on the goodwill of many departments [including] people from English and history and geology that contribute to our major,” Doolittle said. “To be an independent department means money.”

Several students interviewed intending to major in environmental studies welcomed the additional courses and added that they wished there were more courses available. Environmental studies major Becky Poplawski ’13 said she wished she could have taken a class on research methods, which would have helped her with her senior research project, adding that she appreciates that the department is offering more courses and fieldwork opportunities.

Still, the students said they worried that without more faculty, the program may lose the intimate professor-student relationships that have become a hallmark of the major. The low student-faculty ratio provides opportunities for small classes, Mary Beth Barham ’13 said, adding that two professors teach each of the Senior Research Colloquium sections.

Doolittle said the department hopes to continue adding more courses in coming semesters to address remaining needs. In a January internal report evaluating the major, Environmental Studies Chair John Wargo wrote that the program could improve its offerings if the fields of environmental health, urban growth and sustainable architecture, food and agriculture, conservation, consumerism and renewable energy technologies.

“We also hope to increase our emphasis on field studies [and] strengthen our course offerings on research methods,” Wargo wrote, “[and] to develop a seminar that examines diverse ethical issues that surround the conduct of research.”

Doolittle added that she hopes to add some new courses in the spring, including a seminar on urban growth in Eastern countries, though she is unsure the department will be able to acquire enough funding for planned field trips to China and India.

Nearly 1,000 Yale College students take courses in the Environmental Studies Program or the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies each year, according to Wargo’s report.

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