Environmental Studies curriculum revised

The Program in Environmental Studies in Arts & Sciences has extensively revised its curriculum, marking the first detailed overhaul since the major was created more than 10 years ago.

According to Jonathan Losos, Ph.D., professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and director of Environmental Studies, the revision was undertaken in response to student recommendations and a recent increase — by more than 33 percent — in program faculty.

“We’ve added considerable new expertise to the program with these new faculty,” Losos said. “The two goals of this revision are to enhance the education students receive about the environment and issues confronting it, and to provide maximal flexibility so that the options available to undergraduate majors are as diverse as the ways in which the environment can be studied.”

The first key change is the establishment of a set of required introductory courses that students from both the social-science and natural-science tracks must take.

Now students will take four introductory courses, two from the social sciences and two from the natural sciences, making the major more cohesive, Losos said. Two of the introductory courses are new. “Earth and the Environment” replaces “Evolution of the Earth” and is specifically tailored to the needs of Environmental Studies students.

“Introduction to Environmental Sciences: Biology” is a new course designed to introduce students to the study of organisms in their environments.

The curriculum now provides more flexibility in the natural-sciences track.

There are three tracks, one focused on earth science aspects of the environment, one on biological aspects of environmental science, and a more general track that combines the two areas.

Students now also have the option of developing their own tracks. Examples of such tracks might include: global climate change, energy policy and the environment, animal behavior, paleobiology and zooarchaeology.

Environmental Studies is one of the most popular Arts & Sciences majors, with close to 100 students. It is an interdisciplinary major covering a wide variety of different fields, as reflected by faculty who represent 11 different departments, including chemical engineering.

Environmental Studies students are able to fulfill more than one cluster. By choosing particular sets of courses, and perhaps taking an additional course, students can fulfill the Natural Sciences and Social Sciences clusters.

Losos said that this curriculum is in effect for all students beginning with this year’s freshmen. Students who are currently sophomores or above may choose to fulfill the requirements of either the old or the new curriculum.

“The Environmental Studies major will continue to be revised in the near future with the addition of more classes, particularly those for incoming students, and for capstone experiences,” Losos said.

“We’re continually trying to maintain a rigorous major that takes advantage of the diverse resources of Washington University and is flexible in recognizing the many different ways that one can study the environment.”

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