Offering students the tools needed to analyze and solve today’s most pressing environmental problems with an innovative approach that integrates interdisciplinary and experiential learning
St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the state’s public honors college, announced this week the creation of a new major in environmental studies as part of its continuing effort to expand and deepen interdisciplinary and experiential learning curriculum for students.
For more than a decade, St. Mary’s College has offered an environmental studies minor, which had grown into the college’s most popular cross-disciplinary program. “With so much interest from our students and support from faculty, it became clear that we needed to offer more for our students,” explained Sue Johnson, environmental studies program coordinator.
Poised on the banks of the St. Mary’s River, the campus offers students and faculty unparalleled access to a unique learning ‘laboratory.’ In 2014, Barry Muchnick was hired as the college’s first full-time environmental studies faculty. Trained at Yale University as a conservation ecologist and environmental historian, Muchnick brings an exciting entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary perspective to the program. In 2015, Rebecca E. Kelly joined the growing environmental studies program as a three-year visiting assistant professor, grounding several core courses with her expertise as an earth scientist. The new major is further strengthened by over twenty affiliated faculty contributing cross-listed courses in disciplines spanning the entire curriculum.
An interdisciplinary approach built for dual-degrees
The new ENST major builds on the interdisciplinary traditions of the college. “A distinguishing feature of St. Mary’s College is the number of students who choose to double major or add a minor to their course of study,” said Johnson. Students interested in environmental studies can now specialize in one of three tracks: natural sciences, social sciences and policy, or humanities. Students can major exclusively in environmental studies or complement their major with a second major or minor.
The program also supports a range of applied learning experiences, including an applied sustainability practicum, field studies abroad, internships, or independent research. “The new environmental studies program is inherently interdisciplinary, inclusive and experiential,” Johnson notes. “This system allows students to really tailor their education to their interests, and prepares them for a large variety of careers in the environmental workforce.”
A unique hands-on approach to learning
The new major emphasizes experiential education and enables all students to participate in at least one applied learning component. Some of these applied offerings are as innovative as the program itself. This 2015-16 academic year, students enrolled in a Community Sustainable Design course, cross-listed between environmental studies and art, and led by Muchnick and Professor of Art Carrie Patterson, will work alongside community partners to design and build two sustainable tiny houses to explore the connections between sustainable design and community art education. The partnership is with the Forrest Career and Technology Center at Leonardtown High School, the Greenwell Foundation, Lexington Park Elementary School, and the Three Oaks Center.
“The Tiny House course, like other experiential learning opportunities offered as part of the new environmental studies program, cultivates critical thinking and problem solving skills through meaningful exploration of society’s environmental, social, and economic challenges,” said Muchnick. “We are preparing our students for the job market, but also helping them become engaged and effective citizens and stewards through solutions-based, hands-on learning.”