Washington University in St. Louis now offers an environmental analysis major through the Environmental studies Arts & Sciences program. The interdisciplinary major is a response to the global demand for environmental and sustainability experts who can think critically, communicate clearly, and solve problems collaboratively with their communities.
“When you look at the big issues facing humanity, they all touch on the environment – climate change, environmental justice, environmental health,” said David Fike, director of environmental studies, professor of earth and Planets in Arts and Sciences and Associate. Director of the International Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development (InCEES). “The new Environmental Analysis major will provide students with a foundation in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and give them the skills to put this knowledge into a prospective analysis framework. It’s an interdisciplinary approach that mirrors what happens in the real world.
Previously, arts and science students who wanted to focus on the environment were largely restricted to three majors: Environmental Earth Sciences in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences; environmental biology in the Department of Biology; or Environmental Policy in the Department of Political Science. This new major offers a home – literally and figuratively – to students who seek both a more applied curriculum and a cohort experience. The Faculty of Environmental Studies shares the second floor of the new Schnuck Hall with the Office of Sustainabilitywhere many students work on university sustainability projects such as expanding solar power on campus, inventorying building energy use, and reducing food waste.
“Students were scattered across campus, as were faculty,” Fike said. “Now the university has a strong and robust environmental program that is not just about academics and research, but about practice and engagement.”
Core disciplinary courses include “One Health: Linking Health of Human, Animals, Environment”, “Sustainability in Business” and “To Sustainability and Beyond: People, Planet, Prosperity”.
Additionally, students are required to take courses in analysis, social identity, and communication, such as “Environmental Writing”, “Field Methods for Environmental Science”, “Inequality America” and “Environmental Problem Solving”.
Elective courses are offered in sociology, political science, anthropology, and other disciplines. Fike said scientists need a fundamental understanding of social systems and political forces to progress.
“Data alone is never the complete answer,” Fike said. “All real-world issues are rooted in communities. Ensuring our students have communication skills and an awareness of community issues is how you make a real impact.
The Environmental Studies program is one of the few to have a dedicated community engagement coordinator. Carolyn Cosgrove Payne currently holds this position and has worked with past and current external partners including A Red Circle, Restorative Justice Movement Center, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Green Cities Coalition, Metro and St. Louis city.
“This experiential, community-based learning is one of the things that we do really well,” said, Eleanor Pardini, Deputy Director of Environmental Studies and Lecturer. “We teach our students, it’s not just the work you do but how you do it. Do you engage meaningfully with the community partner? Do you know how to tap into the expertise and knowledge of the community? You will have a better solution if you have more people and voices around the table.