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Environmental Science


Benjamin Farrer

Associate Professor of Environmental Studies

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401


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The prairie at Green Oaks Biological Field Station.

B.A., B.S.

  1. We are in a constant state of wonder. And for good reason, too: perhaps our interests tend towards climate oriented questions, or the birth of soil and water landscapes. Maybe we like geochemistry, or the human impact on ecological systems. Or perhaps the coolest thing is looking at the earth from far above, using satellite data to examine the shift of tectonic plates. Whatever it is, our students are excited about the world and the complex systems that keep it going.
  2. We’ve got a program for you. There are many fields of study that relate to the environment: the environmental science major allows our students to focus on scientific methods, while the environmental studies major focuses on policy and social science. No matter which route you choose, interdepartmental cooperation will be a cornerstone of your experience: chemistry, biology, policy, economics, and statistics will all play a role. And thanks to increasing opportunities in Washington D.C., our students don’t have to choose between researching science and researching policy—they can do both!
  3. We do cutting edge research. With NSF programs like REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates), our students can get paid to take on ambitious research at large universities. Some even intern with NASA scientists through the SARP—just ask Claire Schmidt '18 or Jack Dechow '19, who flew in helicopters and airplanes, trained in advanced remote sensing techniques, and examined tree cover, riverside vegetation, and more.
  4. We get in the field. Thanks to our Green Oaks Biological Field Station, students get to study soils and hydrology up close in the Midwestern prairie. But there’s no need to stop there: Knox has access to a wide range of study abroad programs. The School of Field Studies in Australia, Costa Rica, and Peru offers field-based programs that combine social justice and community work with scientific data collection (Jenny Lau '19 recently studied in the Australian rainforest through this program!) Or, like Karen Lynch '18, James Egan '18, and Will Fitzgerald '17, you might end up doing SEA Semester, studying everything from constellations, cloud formations, coral reefs, and mammal sanctuaries, all while sailing the ocean blue.
  5. We’re ready for serious post-graduate work and careers. With the option of a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree program, students can acquire all the tools they’ll need for graduate school or a career in environmental science. Elizabeth Cockrell Shule '12 is an environmental project manager with Trilead Corporation. Wade Powell '06 is a land management specialist for Travis County, Texas. And Bruce Sypniewski '80 is deputy director of the land and chemicals division of the U.S. EPA.

Who We Are

The environmental science department has three full-time faculty: a specialist on climatology and environmental justice, an earth scientist with a specialization in geoarchaeology and GIS, and a social scientist focused on environmental policy. The program also draws on faculty expertise in the departments of biology, chemistry, and psychology.

Students may major in environmental science in one of two degree programs: a bachelor of science degree or a bachelor of arts degree. The major will provide students with the opportunity to focus on the scientific aspects of environmental issues and to gain more practice in the collection and analysis of scientific data. Environmental Science will also prepare students for careers and graduate study in the sciences without an additional scientific major while in college. 

Where We Learn

The environmental studies program is housed in Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center, where there are several large teaching laboratories as well as dedicated student/faculty research laboratories. Other resources include:

  • An outdoor urban farm.
  • Controlled environmental chambers and the Ellen Browning Scripps Greenhouse.
  • Green Oaks Biological Field Station, a 700-acre preserve that includes prairie, woodland and wetland habitats.
  • The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) laboratory that includes state-of-the-art computers with the latest ESRI ArcView software.
  • Hand-held and differential Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and equipment for water quality monitoring, soil sampling, and other environmental field work.
  • A scanning electron microscope (SEM). 
  • The geology laboratory provides space for student projects as well as basic wet lab functionality. Specialized equipment for sample preparation and analysis are available, including a rock saw and ball mill, petrographic and stereo microscopes, and sediment sieves.

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A student on a rope swing in the forest at Green Oaks.
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Printed on Wednesday, April 24, 2024