Studies in the Environment in Yale College offers a program for students interested in acquiring a more comprehensive understanding of complex environmental processes and issues than afforded by any single major in the natural or social sciences or the humanities. The program is offered only as a second major and provides students with both the skills and depth of knowledge required to pursue an environmental career in government or the private sector. It also prepares them to continue their education in graduate and professional programs in business, law, or management of natural resources, and to become effective, informed citizens and stewards of the environment in their communities. Studies in the Environment emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach built on a strong foundation in the natural sciences, especially geology and ecology, subjects that also require a basic background in chemistry, physics, and biology. In the social sciences, courses in economics, political science and policy analysis, and in the humanities, history and literature, are essential components of our core curriculum. Regardless of their primary major, students in the program acquire basic scientific knowledge and practical skills. They become aware, inquiring, and observant, capable of formulating hypotheses, designing experiments, analyzing data, determining its statistical significance, analyzing risk, coming to decisions on the basis of present knowledge, monitoring and adjusting course in response to unanticipated outcomes. Students in the program who are majoring in one of the humanities or social sciences clearly get a better education in natural sciences than do most of their peers.
An Advisory Committee composed of faculty drawn from various participating departments discusses the development of the program and its curriculum. They also provide a resource of information about the program for students with primary majors in their respective departments. The faculty for the program consists of a DUS (currently in the History Department) and a Chair (currently in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology). To satisfy all requirements, except the new junior seminar and the senior colloquium, the program relies on courses taught by participating departments that have been designed to satisfy their curricular goals, not the curricular of Studies in the Environment. In designing their majors and courses, departments do not consult the program about the needs of our students.
During the past two years, the program has undertaken a major discussion and revamping of its requirements. We reviewed the contribution to the environmental literacy of Yale undergraduates made by F&ES 199 introduction to Environmental Studies which is taught by Gordon Geballe. The enrollment was 152 students last year. While this course is attractive to freshmen and sophomores who are considering the second major, we decided not to require it of all majors. If they have not already taken F&ES 199 by the time they are juniors, our majors frequently find they have already covered much of this material in other Yale courses. In the future, students will be required to take a course on the stresses imposed by the explosive growth of human population, such as Global Problems of Population Growth, Studies in the Environment 205b, taught by Robert Wyman, as well as a course in statistical analysis and probability.
An innovation this past year was the introduction of a junior seminar, offered to eleven juniors jointly by DUS Steven Stoll and Chair Mary Helen Goldsmith. The purpose is to prepare students for their senior research projects early enough so they can seek an internship with an environmental organization or other relevant experience in the field or research laboratory over the summer. This course covered historical, social, economic, and scientific perspectives on environmental problems in New England and featured readings and discussions with the students led by experts with interdisciplinary research interests. The problems included land use, agriculture, forests, watersheds, marine fisheries, and urban impacts on regional ecology -- all problems with global dimensions. One goal of the seminar was to encourage students from different disciplines to work in groups and share knowledge across disciplinary boundaries. This was prologue to each student doing a preliminary study in preparation for their senior research, selecting a faculty advisor, and presenting their ideas orally for critique by their peers. Each student also submitted a written prospectus of their research plans for comment by the faculty. We encourage our students to consult with their research advisor and to select an environmental problem for their senior research that can be the subject of a rigorous analysis using the techniques of their primary major, but also one that lends itself well to an interdisciplinary approach.
Because of the introduction of the Junior Seminar, this year we added Lecturer Frederick Meyerson to help monitor the progress of the seniors with their research projects and to run the Senior Colloquium. Meyerson is also responsible for keeping in close contact with each student's research advisor in order that the expectations of both majors are fulfilled. He has a law degree and is a PhD candidate in F&ES. His expertise in environmental policy, including human population, conservation, and climate change, complements that of the DUS and Chair and adds a further dimension to our guidance of the students in the Senior Colloquium.
Despite these positive developments the program remains small. Because of the extra demands of a second major, more students consistently participate in the program than finally complete all its requirements. Although attrition is high, even students who do not complete the major benefit from its existence and the interdisciplinary interactions that the program and its seminar offerings foster between students and faculty. On the other hand, by acquiring depth of knowledge in the field of their primary major and mastering the skills and techniques necessary to do a rigorous research project, we feel that our students avoid the common pitfall of "multidisciplinary illiteracy."
An important strength is that the program provides greater exposure to disciplines relevant to environmental issues than students can achieve in any single major. The program also emphasizes practical experience through its summer internships. This year Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as well as Environmental Engineering have created, and Geology and Geophysics has substantially improved, departmentally based options for students interested in environmental sciences. These initiatives, which are intended to attract students to various departmental majors, raise concern for the survival of an interdisciplinary second major. The intellectual vitality that comes from the interaction among both students and faculty across disciplinary boundaries that has always characterized the major in Studies in the Environment will be seriously undermined if most of the students in natural and applied sciences opt for the new environmental concentrations within individual science departments.
Following demolition of Bingham Laboratory to make way for the new Environmental Sciences building next year, there will be an urgent need for both interim and long-term space for the program. We need administrative and faculty offices where the DUS and Chair can meet with students, and also well equipped classrooms and laboratory space for the program. Ideally, the space designated for the program should be integrated with environmental sciences and in an area that is both accessible and highly visible to undergraduates. An ideal location for the program would be in the new Environmental Sciences building.
By far our most critical need is intellectual: a cadre of committed Yale College faculty need to engage in the design and teaching of a more effective curriculum in Environmental Studies. We need dedicated faculty who see the continuing impoverishment of the earth's land, water, air and biological diversity as a major intellectual challenge facing humans, their social institutions, and security. This faculty needs to initiate ongoing interdisciplinary discussions towards the goal of replacing the current hodge-podge of courses designed by the departments for their own restricted disciplinary purposes, with a better integrated and more coherent, comprehensive, and efficient curriculum in Environmental Studies. The Dean of Yale College recognizes the challenge of meeting the aspirations of many present and potential Yale undergraduates for an excellent program in environmental sciences and studies and has taken the lead by convening a committee of faculty to consider the future shape of environmental education in Yale College.