In search of inspiration to develop a proposal for a minor in environmental studies, Doug Richards spent some time in the Vermont woods during his spring 2007 sabbatical.
Two years later, he took students in his Environmental Literature (ENG 215) class to the woods near campus in hopes of inspiring them.
“One day we went out to the woods adjacent to campus along Cherry Street; near the Keuka Park cemetery and close to where the old Assembly Grounds once stood,” said Richards. “I read some poems and then asked my students to describe and reflect on what they observed, both close by and at a distance.”
Environmental Literature was one of two courses offered for the first time this semester in the environmental studies minor, approved by the Board of Trustees one year ago.
Taking the students outside and having them “make observations of the immediate vicinity called to mind the natural history classes that may have been offered at Keuka College long ago,” said Richards. “I can imagine George Harvey Ball taking students outside and doing something like this.”
According to Richards, “the concept of place is very important in environmental studies and one of the things we hope to do through this minor is reconnect our students with the place where they are living.”
And that is what Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion Mike McKenzie did on another spring semester day. He took students in his Environmental Ethics (PHL 205) class to the Outlet Trail where Leona Jensen, a member of Friends of the Outlet, discussed the many environmental issues and challenges facing the outlet stream.
“Students also learned about the large carbon bisulfide factory and the many mills that were once located there,” said McKenzie, who enlisted Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences Tim Sellers to discuss lake ecology with his students at Point Neamo.
“Tim did a terrific job of explaining to students what ‘their’ lake is like.”
McKenzie and Richards were pleased with the way their courses played out.
“There was solid student interest in linking the humanities and sciences,” explained McKenzie, “and both courses are experiential to the core.”
“Out in the woods, my students were engaged,” said Richards. “They didn’t have to tell me. I could tell.”
Students in both courses were required to read various works, create their own works, reflect on them, and propose a course of action for going forward.
According to Richards, the minor is designed “to provide an interdisciplinary foundation in environmental studies for students in a variety of majors who wish to develop an understanding of environmental issues, or whose professional credentials might be augmented by familiarity with multidisciplinary perspectives on the environment.”
Richards said environmental studies has been cited in a number of recent surveys as a promising program of study.
“Employers in the private and public sector will increasingly need employees with a background and understanding of environmental issues,” he explained. “In particular, this minor is an excellent complement to existing Keuka majors in organizational communication, management, marketing, education, social work, or any of the liberal arts and sciences majors.”
The minor consists of 20 credits plus one required Field Period “in the Keuka Lake watershed or another location,” said Richards.
In addition to Richards and McKenzie, Professor of Biology Kasey Klingensmith, Associate Professor of Criminology/Criminal Justice and Sociology Regi Teasley, and Sellers are scheduled to teach courses in the minor, which also features course options in geography and economics. A new junior-level interdisciplinary Integrative Studies course in environmental sustainability will also be offered for the first time in the spring of 2010 and—like many of the courses in the program—can be used to fulfill general education requirements as well as requirements for the minor.”
Richards isn’t certain how many students the fledgling minor will attract, but expects “up to six or so” to be on board this fall.
“Our aim is to take environmental studies from a minor to a major, but we want to do things right, and so we have some good plans to involve the local community as we grow,” said McKenzie. “For example, we want to establish networks with business people and others to facilitate Field Period opportunities for students.
“The timing is right,” added McKenzie, “and there’s a lot of potential right now to grow this program.”