Knox has added a new environmental science major to the curriculum on the heels of the recently unveiled bachelor of science degree program. The major, which students can pursue as a B.A. or B.S., provides clarity regarding the differences between environmental studies and environmental science.
Until now, students interested in environmental science have been custom-building their curriculums through a combination of chemistry, biology, earth sciences, and the more policy-oriented environmental studies major.
"A lot of the students who are interested in more of the science side of things end up doing a major in some other field," says Katherine Adelsberger, the Douglas and Maria Bayer Endowed Chair in Earth Science. "They're having to figure out some other workaround to do what they want to do."
The arrival of environmental science allows students to focus on similar topics using different perspectives. "How do you value a tree?" asks Adelsberger, starting with the environmental studies perspective: "It's a philosophical question, in some ways, and then what are the policy issues associated with trees and conservation of forest spaces?"
From the science perspective, there may be overlap, but in this case Adelsberger says that students would be "thinking more about the botany and biosphere. What is the climate system doing to those trees?"
Students stand to benefit from having both paths laid out early in their Knox experience. Environmental studies and environmental science will each help funnel students into internships and funded research experiences that best match their interest.
Research plays a key role for Knox students in environmental fields. Just recently, Jenny Lau '19 studied in the Australian rainforest through The School of Field Studies, Karen Lynch '18 enrolled in SEA Semester, and Claire Schmidt '19 and Jack Dechow '19 both worked with NASA scientists in the Student Airborne Research Program (SARP).
Clarifying the difference between environmental science and environmental studies also helps students prepare for graduate work in their field, allowing them to apply for master's programs without needing to take additional courses. The B.S. in environmental science will also help bolster that preparatory background: many graduate programs want physics and calculus, and the requirements for the B.S. includes these courses by default.
Whether pursuing environmental studies or environmental science, Adelsberger feels the benefit to pursuing either course of study at Knox is the interconnectedness of the departments in meeting student interests. "In a big school, the sciences are over here and economics over there, and they don't necessarily mix at all. But having these interconnections between programs and faculty makes you a more valuable employee because you can think in interdisciplinary ways."
"It makes you a better scientist because you're thinking about the implications of your work."