Introducing BC’s Newest Major: Environmental Studies

For the class of 2017 and beyond, the College of Arts & Sciences will now be offering a major in Environmental Studies as a focal point for perspectives on sustainability from the humanities, arts, social sciences, and natural sciences.

The proposal for this new major was submitted to the A&S Educational Policy Committee at the end of the last academic year, after much hard work by a group of dedicated faculty members. It was unanimously approved by the EPC in November, and received approval from Dean Quigley of the College of Arts & Sciences, as well as the university provost, this past month.

According to Professor Noah Snyder, director of the Environmental Studies Program here at BC, there were four main factors that played a role in the motivation to launch the new major.

1. The university possesses enough expertise in the field to build a strong program.

“In the past few years, BC has hired a number of faculty members who teach environmental sustainability-related topics across the university—particularly in earth/environmental sciences, as well as sociology, history, philosophy, and political science,” said Snyder.

2. Students are becoming increasingly interested in an Environmental Studies major, based on polling of current ES minors at BC.

“At the end of last academic year, we polled outgoing seniors in the ES minor, and they agreed that offering an ES major would be welcomed among students within the department,” said Snyder.

In addition, US News World & Report named majors in sustainability (such as Environmental Studies) as one of the “11 Hot College Majors That Lead to Jobs” this past September. In today’s ever-competitive job market, this reputation may prove attractive to students who are looking to secure a future career in the field.

3. Comparable universities offer the program, so it will be yet another incentive for incoming students to enroll at BC.

“Many universities began offering ES majors in the late 80s to mid-90s, so it was definitely time for it to happen at BC,” said Snyder. “I think a lot of prospective students will be happy about the decision to offer it as a major instead of just a minor.”

4. It will foster interdisciplinary growth and collaboration between faculty and students across the university.

“By the time we drafted our proposal, the idea was ripe: there was a strong interest among students and faculty, including Dean Quigley, to offer an ES major that was interdisciplinary like International Studies,” said Snyder.

With the creation of this new major, BC students will be offered more options than they have been previously in the study of the environment. The College of Arts & Sciences will now offer an ES major (BA), as well as the already-existing Environmental Geoscience major (BS) and ES minor.

Because the major focuses on interdisciplinary study of the environment, all ES majors will be required to complete a concentration in either a theme (Food & Water Sustainability or Climate Change & Societal Adaptation) or a discipline (History, Political Science or Sociology). Each theme/discipline will consist of six courses, and the major will contain at least 14 full-semester courses altogether.

“Every ES major will design his/her own curriculum with an advisor, which will include courses in both the environmental sciences and social sciences,” said Snyder.

At the end of this semester, current members of the class of 2017 will have the opportunity to submit their applications to the ES department for consideration. For the 2014-2015 academic year, the department will only admit approximately 15 students. In the fall, these students will begin with a seminar course as an introduction to the university’s brand-new major.

“Like the International Studies major, students will have to apply for ES going into their sophomore year, and there will be a very interdisciplinary approach to teaching it,” said Snyder. “Although we are only starting out with 15 spots, I anticipate the program to grow just as IS has.”

The goal of the major, besides to provide the knowledge necessary to succeed in a future career, is to foster within students a deep understanding of the world’s environmental challenges, as well as supply the tools and creativity necessary to envision sustainable solutions in the future.

Professor Snyder is enthusiastic about the new ES major, and has high hopes for its development as a major within the university.

“It’s been a fun process learning about Environmental Studies programs at other universities, and trying to create one that will be best suited to BC’s needs,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting with and teaching interested students who are passionate about studying ES in a cross-disciplinary manner.”

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Ambrey Rice