Environmental Studies Major Wins Board’s Approval

Plans to establish an Environmental Studies major at UConn received a boost last month when the Board of Trustees voted to approve the establishment of an environmental studies program at the University.

The program also requires the approval of the state’s Board of Regents for Higher Education, but it is hoped that the University will be able to offer the program beginning in fall 2013.

The environment is one of the ‘Focused Areas of Excellence’ in UConn’s Academic Plan, and the proposed new major, which will be humanities and social sciences-based, is designed to complement the existing Environmental Science major.

In presenting the new major to the Board of Trustees, Mun Y. Choi, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said, “The new major in Environmental Studies emphasizes the importance of inter-disciplinary approaches to addressing this grand challenge facing society. The contributions from the humanities and social sciences will provide important and diverse perspectives to technological solutions for resource utilization and stewardship of the environment.”

The program will be overseen by the Environmental Studies Faculty Advisory Board, which is co-chaired by Kathleen Segerson, the Philip E. Austin Professor of Economics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Stephen Swallow, professor of agricultural and resource economics and DelFavero Faculty Fellow in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Segerson says that the idea for an environmental studies major has been germinating for a number of years, and that interested faculty were brought together by former provost Peter Nicholls brought to explore the possibilities.

“Initially this was a grassroots effort on the part of faculty in various disciplines who thought we should have a major that concentrated on the environment, but that focused more on the humanities and social sciences,” she says. “We looked at how majors in the environment are structured at other universities, and then settled on a very balanced program that includes natural science, social science, and humanities.”

Segerson says those components of the major are like “three legs of a stool.” An added benefit is that the program has been designed so a student can do a double major by coupling environmental studies with a second major in the science, social sciences, or humanities.

UConn’s major will provide a broad overview of the ethical and cultural dimensions of the relationship between humans and the environment. In addition to the required courses, students will be able to select electives and related courses that will allow for greater concentration in areas of specialized interest, such as sustainability, public policy, and environmental justice, or the literary and philosophical legacy of human encounters with a non-human world.

“This major creates an opportunity for students with an interest in the humanities and social sciences to seriously address environmental concerns,” says Swallow. “The creativity spawned in the arts, humanities, and social sciences can be critical to helping our society at large to see, understand, feel, and live the importance of the environment in supporting our quality of life.”

Depending upon the course of study pursued, and based upon a student’s interests and career goals, the degree will be awarded by either the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences or the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It is anticipated that a degree in Environmental Studies will lead to careers in such areas as public policy, environmental education, eco-tourism, marketing, journalism, or advocacy.

Students in the major will be required to complete a capstone project designed to synthesize what they’ve gained across the courses they have taken. This may take the form of an individual project or a group project. The capstone project fulfills a ‘W’ requirement and will therefore have a strong writing component.

Says Segerson, “There has been broad faculty support and commitment for the idea of an environmental studies major, and we’ve had the enthusiastic support of Dean Weidemann in CANR and Dean Teitelbaum in CLAS. We’re hoping to offer the first introductory course in the fall of 2013, and I think that it’s going to be greeted with a good deal of enthusiasm across the campus.”