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Environmental studies dept. holds panel for new major

Grace Montgomery

Contributing Writer

In an open forum on Oct. 22, Professor Matt Mariola, head of the environmental science (ENVS) department at Wooster, discussed how the ENVS minor will be moving to a major. With hopes of the major being rolled out in August 2019, Mariola began the forum by discussing the history of the department at Wooster.

“In fall 2008, the program began as a minor and, before that, a small number of students created a self-designed major,” stated Mariola. “I was hired in 2009 as the first full time faculty member as a visiting assistant professor. In fall 2012, I was offered tenure. In fall 2017, the College received Professor Moreno as a postdoctoral fellow in a two-year position. Now, as of this fall, he is signed on as the second tenure tracked position.” 

Wooster remains the only institution in the Five Colleges of Ohio — Oberlin, Kenyon, Denison and Ohio Wesleyan — to not offer a formal ENVS major. Today, students with passion for environmental science have to create self-designed majors, which reflects the interdisciplinarity of the field.

“The fundamental identity of the program is interdisciplinarity. Environmental science can span all the way from the arts and humanities to the hardest of natural sciences. Our belief is that to make any progress to solving complex problems in the world, we have to look at multiple disciplines,” Mariola said.

The new ENVS major has five pillars that define and aid the transition from minor to major. The pillars are systematic planning and checkpoints, pathways, considerations about double majoring, what courses the major requires and junior and senior I.S. The main focus of the new major is to develop a system of planning that can usefully lend itself to future majors.

“Based on the self-designed majors that focus on environmental science, we created the concept of the ‘circular map’ that looks at laying out a student’s thematic ‘pathway’ and intended courses. As students follow pathways again and again, a set of templates will organically evolve, making curricular choices easier for future majors. Like self-designed majors, students have to start thinking early of what they want to focus on,” Mariola stated.

A pathway is a loose structure of environmental-themed courses that focus on a topic at hand. Two of the pathways that the ENVS department thought could be popular were sustainable agriculture and environment and society. 

One audience member asked the difference between pathways and concentrations, which can be found in political science, global and international studies and classical studies.

“A concentration is a fairly predetermined set of courses. Pathways, however, do not need to be tracked by the registrar formally. Any theme can appear in the mind of the student and can be offered to an advisor as a potential pathway of study,” Mariola said.

The major will have 13 courses, with two introductory courses for all students, a cluster of three to four courses aligned with a specific pathway, a methods course that is fulfilled in another department, and three to four interdisciplinary breadth courses that are cross listed and junior and senior independent study. Another audience member asked how sustainable the model is for only two faculty members, particularly in regards to senior I.S. advising.

“There will be a full advising load for Professor Moreno and I of about 10 senior majors a year. A one-year visitor for the environmental humanities is scheduled to come teach at the College,” Mariola remarked.

Before reaching the August 2019 goal, there will be proposals drafted to the educational policy committee in November and faculty will formally vote on the proposal in December. 

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