Background Image

Haverford Fall 2011 : Page 27

Environmental anthropologist Nikhil Anand lectures on the history of the global environmental movement. The Environment CLASSROOM PHOTOS: PETER TOBIA New Focus on ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// T he Tri-College Environmental Studies Program launches, offering students across the three campuses an interdisciplinary approach to some of the crucial issues of our time. It is the end of October and in a classroom in Hilles Hall students in a course called Case Studies in Environ-mental Issues are settling into their seats for a talk by guest lecturer Dilip da Cunha, a landscape architect from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. For a section of the course that focuses on issues around water and politics, dams and development, da Cunha, co-author of the books SOAK and Mississippi Floods , will share with the group of 40 students his thoughts about the Mississippi Basin as a “landscape of conflict” along with observations about the water challenges faced by Mumbai, India. BY EILS LOTOZO At just about the halfway point in the semester, the class, which is co-taught by environmental chemist Helen K. White and environmental anthropologist Nikhil Anand, has already explored such topics as biodiversity, the structure and function of ecosystems, population dynamics, and pesticides and toxicity. The students have delved into the global history of environ-mentalism and read iconic writings on nature and the environment by Edward Abbey, John McPhee and Rachel Carson. They have created their own maps of the Haverford College environment, looked at “agroecology” and considered the via-bility of local food systems on a field trip Fall 2011 27

New Focus On The Environment

Eils Lotozo

The Tri-College Environmental Studies Program launches, offering students across the three campuses an interdisciplinary approach to some of the crucial issues of our time.<br /> <br /> It is the end of October and in a classroom in Hilles Hall students in a course called Case Studies in Environmental Issues are settling into their seats for a talk by guest lecturer Dilip da Cunha, a landscape architect from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. For a section of the course that focuses on issues around water and politics, dams and development, da Cunha, co-author of the books SOAKand Mississippi Floods, will share with the group of 40 students his thoughts about the Mississippi Basin as a “landscape of conflict” along with observations about the water challenges faced by Mumbai, India.<br /> <br /> At just about the halfway point in the semester, the class, which is co-taught by environmental chemist Helen K. White and environmental anthropologist Nikhil Anand, has already explored such topics as biodiversity, the structure and function of ecosystems, population dynamics, and pesticides and toxicity. The students have delved into the global history of environmentalism and read iconic writings on nature and the environment by Edward Abbey, John McPhee and Rachel Carson. They have created their own maps of the Haverford College environment, looked at “agroecology” and considered the viability of local food systems on a field trip to an urban farm in Philadelphia. Capping the semester will be a trip to a sewage treatment plant as well as readings and discussions focused on the health of the world’s oceans and global climate change.<br /> <br /> It is an intense journey, and that’s by design: The Case Studies class is one of the core courses that are part of the just-launched Tri-College Program in Environmental Studies. The new, broadly interdisciplinary program (the first such Tri-Co program ever developed) gives Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore students in any major the opportunity to minor in Environmental Studies. The requirements include two core courses (the introductory Case Studies class plus a project-based senior seminar) and four electives from an approved list of more than 90 classes. Potential electives, which can be taken on any of the three campuses, include such courses as Environmental Health; Environmental Economics (Bryn Mawr); Solar Energy Systems; Behavioral Ecology (Swarthmore); Introduction to Environmental Anthropology; and Energy Options and Science Policy (Haverford).<br /> <br /> Haverford first began planning for the program in 2009 after an intensive review of the College curriculum by a faculty committee resulted in a report (“Blueprint for Academic Excellence”) that identified Environmental Studies as a key area for development. Initially the intention was to collaborate with Bryn Mawr, which already offered an Environmental Studies concentration. But after a series of discussions that brought in faculty from Swarthmore (which had been offering its own ES minor) the vision for a Tri-Co program began to take shape.<br /> <br /> “The benefits are just so clear,” says Professor of English Kim Benston, who was the co-chair of the Environmental Studies working group that helped develop the program. “When you look at Environmental Studies, it is so radically interdisciplinary that it is hard to imagine providing the students the whole land Landscape of methodologies and styles of inquiry in any one curriculum. With three colleges involved, you don’t have just one biologist, or one political scientist, or one philosopher who is the voice for that experience in the discipline. You have this wider range of expertise. It’s also very valuable to the faculty—who are involved in a very fast moving discipline whose cutting edge is shifting as we find out more—to be in collaboration and dialogue with other faculty.” <br /> <br /> As planning went forward for the program, a significant grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and additional support from alumni and foundation donors, allowed Haverford to hire three new tenure-track faculty members to help build the interdisciplinary scope of Environmental Studies at the College. White, an assistant professor of chemistry, whose research focuses on the sources and cycling of organic matter in marine sediments, started work in the fall of 2009 and is the director of the ES program. (In December 2010, she got a close look at a major U.S. environmental issue when she joined a team of scientists on a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico that examined the effects on marine life of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.)<br /> <br /> Joining the faculty at the start of the current academic year were Anand, an assistant professor of anthropology, whose research has focused on the water system in Mumbai, and the ways natural resources and the public are mobilized for urban development and environmental projects; and Assistant Professor of Biology Jonathan Wilson, whose research examines the physiology of fossil plants as a means to reconstruct environmental history.<br /> <br /> “It is really exciting to be a part of this new initiative,” says Anand, who worked closely with White to develop the Case Studies core course they teach together. “It is made Even more exciting by the energy and enthusiasm of the students. It is clear from the classes that they are really concerned about environmental questions and some of them are already engaged in doing work on environmental issues.” <br /> <br /> “What is also unique is the way the program has been designed,” Anand says. “It is interdisciplinary without watering anything down. The science in this program will not be science for nonmajors. We want students to get a very deep understanding of both science and social science.” But visual arts or literature majors could also find the minor’s deeply interdisciplinary approach a good fit, he believes. “Issues around food and water are not just questions for science, they are questions for the humanities as well,” he says.<br /> <br /> Benston believes the Environmental Studies minor will also attract Haverford students interested in the social justice issues that are intertwined with so many pressing environmental problems. “We are a college with a long and complex interest in social justice, so we want students not just to have the grounding to think about environmental problems as open to technical solutions, but also to understand their historical and cultural determinants, and to ask broad questions about affected populations,” he says.<br /> <br /> “It’s very rare to have a scientist and a non-scientist together teaching a class and students have responded very positively to that,” says White about the Case Studies course, which is meant to serve as an introduction to Environmental Studies. “When I am teaching, I really want students to understand what the scientific underpinnings are. We look at numbers. We look at figures. We look at data. Then, because he is an anthropologist, Nikhil problematizes all of that. He says, ‘OK, these are the figures, but what are the questions you are asking? Are these the questions you should be asking? How do the questions change?’ ” <br /> <br /> “We are both used to walking between the disciplines, and I think it’s exciting for students to see that,” says White, who hopes to incorporate more field trips into the Case Studies course in the future. “Part of it is to have students experience the environment, but it is also to have students interact with Nikhil, Jon and me in the environment, which is where we do our work,” she says. “I would love to do something like follow a river to the ocean. That’s exciting, but logistically challenging. Fortunately, we have a lot of support to figure that out.” There is also support, she says, for faculty across the board to develop more courses with an Environmental Studies aspect.<br /> <br /> “It is really nice to be at the center of something so new,” says Jonathan Wilson, who sits in on nearly every session of White and Anand’s Case Studies course, and has also stepped in several times as a guest lecturer. Wilson is also co-teaching the senior seminar in Environmental Studies at Bryn Mawr with political scientist Carol Hager. “The amount of expertise that is out there is just wonderful,” Wilson says. “We profit from their history at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore in developing Environmental Studies programs.” <br /> <br /> “This program is a big part of the reason I came to Haverford,” says Wilson, who in the spring will teach a junior biology seminar that will combine paleontology, climatology and biochemistry. “With a program like this, at a school like this, we really have the opportunity to create the next generation of truly interdisciplinary approaches to the environment. I hope our students go on to graduate school and become scientists. And I hope some of our students go on to work for the EPA and advise members of Congress.<br /> <br />

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here