Interest in Environmental Majors Soars
by Tony Moore
January 30, 2013
The 3,400-acre Florence Jones Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary is one of several sites where environmental-science and environmental-studies students can conduct field research.
The enrollment numbers are in for Dickinson's Department of
Environmental Studies & Environmental Science, and growth shows no sign of
slowing down. As the department enters its 19th year on campus, the
class of 2014 has more than four times the number of majors as did the class
of 2007—jumping from 10 to 43.
"Several obvious reasons help to explain why the number of
environmental-studies and environmental-science students is growing
so rapidly," says Ashton Nichols, Walter E. Beach '56 Distinguished
Chair in Sustainability and chair of the department. "Dickinson
has one of the oldest and most well-established programs in the
country, and the entire mood of our current student generation is a
key factor in attracting students."
Dickinson's incorporation of sustainability issues into its very
lifeblood is also playing a role. The creation of the Center for
Sustainability Education and the increasing emphasis on sustainability in all aspects of college life also have attracted students to
the school and the department.
Nichols cites the sustainability-infused curriculum,
green-leaning campus facilities efforts, the organic farm and the
presence of eco-reps in the dorms as factors that place the
college's environmental stance front and center for current and
Up from 54 in 2010, there are currently 106 students enrolled as
environmental-science or environmental-studies majors (with numerous sophomores preparing to declare). Dickinson offers a B.S. in environmental science and
a B.A. in environmental studies, so that students can
approach their discipline from a natural-sciences perspective (by emphasizing laboratory work and fieldwork) or a social-science and humanities
perspective (by emphasizing policy, economics and philosophy).
"In both degrees," Nichols says, "students get a solid grounding
in the intensive study of the environment (aquatic and
terrestrial) and also in the historical and cultural backgrounds to
current environmental issues and problems."
The fieldwork aspect of an environmental-science or environmental-studies major's curriculum can be vast,
and, as Nichols says, "As is so often the case at Dickinson,
students can supplement either degree with fabulous overseas study
opportunities in places like Costa Rica, India and Great Britain,
"Dickinson has a growing reputation for sustainability and an interesting assortment of opportunities in regards to working on sustainable projects," says Annaliese Ramthun '13, an environmental-science major. "The majors tends to be pretty close-knit, because we spend a lot of time together in labs and share extracurriculars like environmental clubs or jobs with the farm and ALLARM."
Nichols also cites Dickinson's co-curricular and social
opportunities, noting field trips to places such as the Chesapeake
Bay and the Mississippi Delta and local internship options—at the
farm and with the Biodiesel Program, for instance—as reasons the
department has been so popular with students.
"Our students care about the environment," Nichols says.
"They worry about global warming, and they see the idea of
sustainability as something they want to incorporate into their
lives, whatever they go on to do after graduation."