YIBS Five Year Report
Advancing Graduate and Undergraduate Education
The Institute for Biospheric Studies not only serves as a catalyst for interdisciplinary research collaborations, but also provides active financial and conceptual support for the interdisciplinary study of the environment at the graduate and undergraduate levels. The over-arching goal of this aspect of the Institute's mission is to help create a new type of environmental scientist who is prepared to address complex, multi-disciplinary challenges.
During its first five years, the Institute began to address this goal by supporting the development of new courses for graduate and undergraduate students; by strengthening the Studies in the Environment major and assisting with the establishment of the Program in Organismal Biology; by engaging in targeted development strategies to attract student support from corporations, foundations, and individual donors; and by funding new faculty positions. Over the five year period, $1.387 million was allocated for these purposes. (See Summary of Resource Allocation, pages 23-24.)
The Center for Earth Observation makes a significant impact on education through its relevance to a wide range of academic disciplines and by enabling advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate students to learn the fundamentals of remote sensing and apply these techniques to their study of the earth's environment and man's relationship to it. A number of graduate students indicate that the opportunity to draw upon CEO resources was a determining factor in their decision to pursue graduate study at Yale.
Students in the tremendously successful "Observing Earth from Space" course offered through the Center for Earth Observation not only gain knowledge that can be applied in their own research, but they acquire a valuable technical skill that is applicable in a range of scientific and information-industry careers. These students also assist the Center in expanding the applications of remote sensing and geological information systems into areas of research that had not previously benefited from such techniques. One graduate student, for example, contributed the knowledge he had acquired through this course to his collaboration with a faculty member in Geology & Geophysics who is not himself affiliated with the Center for Earth Observation. The student's contribution of newly acquired knowledge not only enhanced the project's design, it contributed to the group's findings to such a degree that the student is listed as a co-author of the resulting publication.
This course is regularly oversubscribed, as enrollment must be capped at 40 students due to the limited availability of work stations in the electronic laboratory. In the Fall 1995 term, 40 students from nine academic disciplines were enrolled.
Both undergraduate and graduate students also benefit from the Courses in Population Studies developed and enhanced with funding to support invited speakers provided by a Yale alumnus through the Institute's development effort. Students enrolled in the course may receive credit in either Biology, Forestry and Environmental Studies, Economics, or Epidemiology and Public Health; in addition to students from these areas, the course also attracts majors in International Studies, Political Science, Divinity, Anthropology, and others. In this course, students learn the principles of global demography, with an emphasis on the influences of population growth on environmental problems in ecosystems, health, economies, the atmosphere, water, soil, and energy; discussion also focuses on the history of population size changes, patterns of migration, family planning in more and less developed countries, and prospects for population stability and low-growth economics.
A new course addressing population issues is currently being developed by Biology Professor Robert Wyman; this course will be offered through the Department of International Studies in fall 1996. In addition to these specific courses, population issues are integrated into other course offerings in basic biology and ecology, as well as in economics, public health, and sociology.
The Center for Global Change sponsors an interdisciplinary course entitled "Topics in Global Change" which engages students in discussions with Yale faculty and visiting scholars dealing with the present workings of the environment, measurable changes in recent times, and changes recorded over longer periods in rocks, sediments, ice cores, pre-historic and historic archaeological remains, and written records. This seminar has brought Yale students into direct dialogue with the leading scholars in the field of climate change on a weekly basis over the past five years.
To provide direct financial support to graduate students in Anthropology, Biology, Geology & Geophysics, and in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the Hutchinson Prize was established in memory of Professor Evelyn Hutchinson, a founder of the modern science of ecology. To date 84 students have received stipends and/or research support for up to four years of graduate study in areas relevant to the Institute's mission.
Looking to the future of enhanced post-graduate education, an endowment has been established for the Gaylord Donnelley Environmental Fellows Fund to support post-doctoral associates whose research interests are in the area of biodiversity. Based on projected growth, the first post-doctoral Donnelley Fellow will be appointed in 1997.
The Institute provides support for two undergraduate degree-granting programs: Studies in the Environment and the Program in Organismal Biology. Both are offered as second majors only, thus they enhance the interdisciplinary nature of environmental studies at Yale by encouraging students to formally consider the relationships linking environmental topics with their primary course of study. These programs draw students from disciplines as diverse as Yale College itself, and prepare them for graduate study and careers in professions such as law, medicine, theology, and organic farming, among numerous others.
Studies in the Environment, established in 1984, is a second major designed to engage Yale College students in the interdisciplinary study of environmental issues and to encourage students to integrate a broad range of economic, political, ethical, and scientific approaches to environmental problem-solving. Studies in the Environment is the only one of Yale College's four environmental majors that operates independently of any single academic Department.
While Studies in the Environment was established well before the Institute, its subsequent affiliation with the Institute enabled students, faculty, and program administrators to become a more integral part of the University's broader efforts to enhance the environmental sciences. Furthermore, this affiliation provided the program with the stability needed to attract internal and external support, both financial and conceptual, and to benefit from a targeted development effort. In 1991-92, for example, the program faced a "Catch 22" that often proves fatal to many innovative academic programs-the University was putting pressure on program administrators to demonstrate their ability to attract external funding, while external funding sources were reluctant to support an initiative that had not secured a long-term commitment from the University. Working through the Institute and its development team, the program was successful in attracting a total of $750,000 in endowment from the William Bingham Foundation, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, and friends of the University, including an External Advisory Board member; this success proved to be a turning point in the program's growth and stability.
Increased interest in the environment among both the students and the faculty has generated substantial growth in the Studies in the Environment program. Formal enrollment has risen dramatically, from 11 students in 1992 to 56 in the current academic year, making it the 23rd largest among Yale College's 72 undergraduate majors. In addition, as many as 250 students per term took introductory courses in spring 1994 and in the 1994-95 academic year.
In recognition of this stability and growth, Yale College recently granted one "faculty line" to the program; an international search for an environmental historian has resulted in the appointment of Dr. Steven Stoll, who will also serve as the program's Director of Undergraduate Studies. In addition, Studies in the Environment has for the first time in the 1995-96 academic year begun to offer courses under its own sponsorship: The Country and the City in America, 1750 to 1950; and Functioning of Plants in Agriculture and Ecosystems.
Students wishing to augment their studies with research projects that would not be feasible within an academic year are eligible to apply for grants of $500-$2,000 funded by Hitachi America and by one of the Institute's External Advisory Board members to defray summer research expenses; such grants are referred to as "student internships." Discussions with program alumni suggest that the internship is a source of insight, experience, and network contacts that influence subsequent academic and career decisions. For example, one student is currently completing research entitled "Investigating Fertility Decline in Kenya" for which she spent the summer of 1995 in the outskirts of Nairobi, conducting focus group discussions and other field studies to gather data on the role of locally held myths and misconceptions as a barrier to contraceptive use. As a result of this experience, she now plans to continue field research in population planning at the graduate level.
The Program in Organismal Biology was created in 1991 to serve as a vehicle for students pursuing careers in environmental sciences, particularly in the evolutionary and ecological sciences, enabling them to earn a second major in conjunction with a degree in Anthropology, Biology, Geology & Geophysics, or Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. The focus of this major is to prepare students as natural scientists who can work in such fields as conservation biology.
Although this is a relatively new major, enrollment continues to increase each year; as of January, 1996, 35 students had formally declared a second major in Organismal Biology. At this time the majority of the program's graduates are engaged in graduate-level study. One graduate is working with fisheries in southeast Asia as a Peace Corp volunteer, while another is studying at Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship. The latter was the first undergraduate in Yale history to be simultaneously awarded Exceptional Distinction in two undergraduate degrees, Anthropology and the Program in Organismal Biology.
As with Studies in the Environment, Organismal Biology offers students the opportunity to apply for Hitachi America Summer Internship funds to undertake research challenges beyond those typically presented as part of the undergraduate experience. One student, for example, used a research grant funded by Hitachi America to develop a study of the web decorating behavior of Argiope argentata in Panama. Her internship support enabled her to spend the summer months of 1995 in Panama conducting field research to explore the relationships between web form and function and prey capture. The initial field work was so successful that the student was invited to remain in Panama to continue her research through the 1995-96 academic year. She is currently on leave from Yale College and will return to graduate in the Fall 1996 term; the current research will serve as the foundation for her senior project and thesis. Other examples of internship research conducted in 1995 include studies of captive breeding programs in conservation biology, behavioral ecology of cliff swallow colonies, and nesting ecology of a neotropical warbler. Proposed studies for summer 1996 include an effort to reintroduce desert tortoises to an area in Nevada where they formerly existed and a study of a fossil Mesozoic flora.
The Program is also for the first time offering courses under its own sponsorship in the 1995-96 academic year: The Biology of Fishes , which attracted over 100 students in Fall 1995; and Herpetology, offered in Spring 1996. A new course in Marine Biology is proposed for spring 1997. All other Organismal Biology courses are cross-listed with and taught by faculty from the Departments of Anthropology, Biology, Geology & Geophysics, Psychology and from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.