After more than 20 years as a concentration, environmental studies will finally become a major. The major will be available to students by the end of this semester and is co- directed by Visiting Professor of Economics and Environmental Science Robert Alexander and Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Siobhan Fennessy.
The newly expanded environmental studies major will require 8.25-8.75 credits, making it one of the most credit-heavy majors at Kenyon, and will come with a suite of new environmental studies classes, such as a solar energy course, an environmental systems course and a methods course that will give students the statistical skills they need for their course of study. The administration will not be hiring any new professors, according to President Sean Decatur, and will instead make use of professors already at Kenyon to teach in the interdisciplinary department, something he attributes to the interdisciplinary nature of the field.
“Environmental Studies as an interdisciplinary field has been firmly established beyond Kenyon for some, so I think it’s the appropriate time, if not overdue, for an Environmental studies major,” Decatur said. “When we think about the broader challenges facing us in the world beyond Gambier, environmental issues are very high on the list.”
Fennessy added that an important part of the new major was the recently supportive administration. She indicated that she sensed that the administration believed environmental studies worked best as a concentration paired with another major, as they were afraid an environmental studies major would cause students to only attain a shallow understanding of the many subjects related to the concentration, like economics, biology and sociology.
This was a unique challenge that Fennessy and Alexander encountered when designing the major. Their solution was to pair a 6.25 credit “Common Core” requirement — which consists of courses in environmental studies, biology, anthropology, economics and other related departments — with a 2.0-2.5 credit “focus” area. This focus, which must be approved by the department to ensure proper depth and academic rigor, is entirely up to the student, allowing the new program to prepare students for whatever area of study they want to pursue.
The major also requires that students complete an “Experiential Community Exercise,” which students must fulfill independently. A few examples that the major proposal provided were a study-abroad research project, a project that has an impact on the Gambier community, an internship or even independent research with a professor.
The Senior Exercise of the major will be a research paper, the subject of which depends on the focus the student has chosen.
Erin Keleske ’18 plans to declare an environmental studies major as soon as it is available. Keleske, who is a biology major, a co-president of Environmental Campus Organization and an intern in the office of Green Initiatives, has been involved in the environmental studies department and on-campus environmental initiatives since her first year. She has eagerly awaited the major’s official announcement.
“I took Intro to Environmental Studies fresh- man year, and that’s when Fennessy told me that the major was happening,” Keleske said. “Although, a lot of people before me had been told that, but I was optimistic.”
Current seniors with the concentration will be unable to enroll in the major. Even Keleske admits that, for a junior, writing the Senior Exercise on such short notice may be a daunting task, despite her significant knowledge of environ- mental biology.
Seniors in the concentration are not too bothered by missing out on the major, according to Keleske. “A lot of people who would be majoring are graduating with their own synoptic major or, for example, are doing International Studies with the concentration,” she said. “What it really does for us is give us a concrete list of classes we need to take, and a framework to get them done.”
For students interested in the major, Fennessy and Alexander are already advising potential majors on what to take next fall should they choose to enroll. By Fennessy’s estimation, there are already 15 students committed to taking the major next year.
“The program is launching on a really positive note,” Fennessy said. “I’m really excited to see it get to the next level.