Environmental studies, which was recently designated a separate major, has received mixed reviews from students as it completes its evolution to a full-fledged curricular program.
The environmental studies major became a standalone major in 2001, when it was converted from studies in the environment, which functioned only as a second major. Students in the major said the program offers room to explore individual interests, but some said the interdisciplinary nature of the department made it difficult to pursue a coherent program.
The first class admitted to the new major will graduate in 2004 with an interdisciplinary degree that requires prerequisites in chemistry, biology and math and courses from the humanities and social sciences, as well as a 6-course concentration of the student’s choice.
Linda Shi ’04, an environmental studies and international studies double major, said there is always a tension in interdisciplinary departments, but maintained that such tension is necessary in the field of the environment.
“It’s a double-edged blade, the interdisciplinary-ness of it,” Shi said.
Environmental studies major Christopher McPhee ’04 said the major is broad with courses from many of Yale’s departments.
“It’s breadth is great, but the depth is not really there,” McPhee said. “I think it’s a great idea, but they’re still working the kinks out.”
Anna Gross ’04 said she started out to satisfy the pre-med requirements and was interested in the natural sciences. She said her concentration in ecology is more focused than others in the major.
“[Students with other concentrations] feel that they’ve taken all these different classes in different areas, but they don’t have a base,” Gross said.
Director of Undergraduate Studies John Wargo said there are different models for pursuing education — being grounded in a discipline or understanding a deep issue.
“It’s very different than being a biology major where you have a clear set of steps to follow,” Wargo said. “There’s more freedom and in a way it’s quite a burden.”
When studies in the environment was a second major, students struggled to fulfill the requirements, Chairman Jeffrey Park said. The curriculum is now designed to allow students to pursue their interests while still giving them a solid basis in the field, Park said.
“If allowed to pick and choose too much, they would come out with serious gaps,” Park said.
Park said the courses teach students what they need to know about science, not necessarily to be a scientist, but to be able to create informed policy.
But some students said the requirements remain difficult to fulfill.
McPhee said he was still taking introductory level courses during his junior year in order to satisfy the requirements for the major.
“I hate biology but I had to take it anyway,” McPhee said.
Shi said many of her friends decided not to apply to the major when they realized that they could not satisfy all of the prerequisites.
Wargo said there are about 10 junior majors this year and the ideal number would be around 15. Park said if a second junior seminar were added he would like to see the number of majors reach 30.