Environmental Science Unveils Two New Majors

At the beginning of the block, Colorado College’s environmental science department unveiled two revised tracks within the broader major: environment and society, which replaced environmental policy, and a revision to the previous ‘integrated environmental science’ track.

Photo by Josh Birndorf

According to Miro Kummel, the chair of the EV department, the revisions were underway for two years prior to their finalization and approval at the end of Block 6. The changes were prompted partially by the customary ‘external review’ of the EV department and its curriculum during the last academic school year. However, internal conversations among the department faculty had been ongoing since 2016.

These internal conversations were triggered by both a significant change in faculty—and thus a desire to adjust the curriculum according to new faculty’s expertise and interests—and time; the last major revision of the EV curriculum took place in the early 2000s. Therefore, given how “dynamic” Kummel argues EV is as an area of study, revising the curriculum to fit the current scientific dialogue was essential.

Faculty encouraged students to participate in the curriculum revision through the external review process. Students “had very strong input” during that undertaking, according to Kummel; the subsequent revisions took “all of the student recommendations incredibly seriously.”

Kummel and the rest of the EV department hope the revisions will help alleviate some previous weaknesses and concerns—primarily how “prescriptive” the old majors were—by giving room for more “freedom of choice.”

In the environment and society major, students have the choice of four EV social science, humanities, or natural science electives. Thus, out of 14 credits required for the major, students can pick nearly 30 percent of their courses—a huge improvement, Kummel argues, from the previous major.   

Kummel and the department also tried to address students’ concern that the old majors were too overlapping and thus not focused enough. Under the old curriculum, 11 of the 16 required credits for both majors overlapped. Consequently, the department made the majors more distinct; the integrated track became more STEM focused and the environment and society track became more holistic and interdisciplinary, rather than mostly policy driven.

“You see that in the environment and society major, there are multiple strands of thought being braided together,” specifically humanities, politics and policy, economics, and natural sciences, Kummel explained.

Bekah Latham ‘20 is “caught kind of in the middle” because she has yet to formally declare her major, and thus can choose to declare either the new environment and society major or the old environmental policy major. Latham—and all other students on campus still waiting to declare—have until the first Friday of Block 8 to declare either the old EV major or the new one. After that, all students will automatically be registered for the new one. Latham confirmed Kummel’s hopes, explaining how the new major offered “more flexibility” and “more freedom in terms of electives.” She was excited to see the new major was less “restrictive” than its predecessor. Overall, Kummel said most of the students he and his colleagues have spoken with so far this block are happy with the revision, and most first- and second-year students currently in the process of declaring the major are choosing the newly revised track.

The name change from environmental policy to environment and society appears to be one of the sole points of contention and debate amongst EV majors regarding the revisions. Latham said the name change may “lead to a lot of questions from students just because it’s slightly less clear what it is.” However, she is not actively concerned about the name, unlike Lily Weissgold ’20, who is currently declared under the old major of environmental policy.

“I will be really, really frustrated if my degree says environment and society,” said Weissgold. She worries primarily about future employers and graduate schools not understanding the new major classification and thus, not giving it adequate validity.

Kummel said the department decided to change the name of the major to echo the new interdisciplinary and holistic nature of the program. Furthermore, he revealed that the department is in the process of changing the entire department name from “environmental science” to “environmental studies.”

Despite her hesitancy in the name change, Weissgold said she greatly appreciates the revision and thinks “it’s more well thought out” than the previous major. Furthermore, she hopes the revisions will attract more students to the major in future years to come, broadening the sphere of interest on campus surrounding environmental science.

Grace Perry

Grace Perry

Grace Perry has been writing for the Catalyst since January 2018. She is a sociology major and double minor in journalism and Spanish.

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