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Kenyon gives green light to environmental studies major

The long-awaited program, which was previously a concentration, launched this fall.

When I entered his office on Wednesday morning, Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Robert Alexander was stationed at his computer, typing up a document detailing requirements for a senior exercise. The occasion: for the first time this fall, students can declare a major in environmental studies.

Alexander, whom Kenyon hired three years ago specifically to help establish the new major, runs the department in conjunction with Siobhan Fennessy, the Philip and Sheila Jordan professor of environmental studies and biology. Both advise pioneer students in the major. Fennessy explained that the program draws from chemistry, biology and political science, in addition to many other academic fields. She also said the flexibility of the major enables students to find a focus within their studies.

“Since getting here, what I’ve seen is students who are so committed to making a difference in the world, and that’s everything,” Alexander said.

Since her arrival on campus three years ago, Erin Keleske ’18 pushed to establish an environmental studies major. “When I first came in, I knew there were workings of an environmental studies major … and it seemed like the more students brought it up, the more quickly it moved,” she said. Keleske, who already declared a major in biology her sophomore year, was one of the first students to declare last Tuesday, along with Heather Pacheco ’18, also a biology major.

Keleske was president of Kenyon’s Environmental Campus Organization (ECO) last year and will be doing her senior exercise on the science behind climate change denial — what factual evidence convinces people that climate change doesn’t exist. She hopes the new major will give students an academic hub and increased resources to centralize environmentally focused  projects across campus, including ECO and Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC) activities.

Since Keleske and Pacheco declared, three other seniors have expressed intentions of pursuing the major, the latest of whom spoke to Alexander yesterday. The professor grinned when I confirmed these numbers with him, saying they were perfect for the department to ease into the major without being overwhelmed by too many students.

Fennessy explained that although there was an environmental studies concentration before this year, the new major offers breadth and depth for students interested in the discipline. “I think that one of the things that makes our program unique is that we have this link to all the green centers  — The BFEC, the Kokosing Nature Preserve,” Fennessy said, in reference to a local, environmentally conscious cemetery. She also mentioned the Kenyon Farm and Office for Community Partnership as resources for students.

Another requirement for completing the major is participation in a community-based learning experience, such as the Summer Science Program, which is a grant-funded research program for students in the sciences, archaeology, biological anthropology and mathematics. Fennessy explained that the environmental studies major provides an academic link to these kinds of local initiatives.

Fennessy believes the new major is one of many key steps on Kenyon’s journey toward becoming a greener campus. “We have had a lot of interest over the years,” Fennessy said. “But it’s really satisfying because we’ve been saying for a long time, ‘We really will have [a major] someday’ … so it’s been such a thrill to say to incoming first years at orientation, ‘Yes, we have a major, and here’s where you can start.’”

Dora Segall

Dora Segall

Dora Segall is a writer and co-editor for the arts section of the Kenyon Collegian.
Dora Segall

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