Academic Options in Sustainability

WorldOver the past few years, increasing numbers of students have advocated for the creation of sustainability-focused coursework as part of their academic experience.  The field of sustainability addresses the interactions between humans and the natural environment; it is inherently multidisciplinary in nature and spans the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities.  Many of the courses address the large issue areas of management of natural resources and management of resource consumption.  Specific disciplines that offer classes relating to sustainability at the University include, in science and engineering, biology, chemical engineering, and earth and environmental sciences; and in social sciences and humanities, anthropology, economics, English, history, philosophy, political science, and studio art.

The Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) Department has expanded its course offerings in recent years to include study of energy, climate change, and oceanography alongside its traditional strengths in geology and earth sciences.  During the same time period, new courses that address environmental sustainability have been developed in other departments across Arts, Sciences and Engineering.

Last May, the Genesee Workshop was co-organized by Joan Saab, Chair of Art and Art History and Karen Berger, Lecturer of Earth and Environmental Sciences, as an effort to incorporate sustainability into existing classes. From this workshop, Professor Michael Scott of the Computer Science Department modified his course Social Implications of Computing. Similarly, Assistant Professor of Art, Cary Peppermint, expanded his Art and Art History courses. The workshop further engaged faculty from the Warner School of Education and the Eastman School of Music. Thanks to support from the Hajim School of Engineering, Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, and the Office of the Provost, the workshop was able to provide financial support to faculty working to modify existing curriculum to include more sustainability topics and is planned to be offered every other year.

In addition to being exposed to sustainability topics in these newly-modified courses, students may gain greater exposure to these issues through the Sustainability Clusters and Minor. The clusters are either based in Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, or Humanities. The sole Natural Sciences Cluster is focused on technical energy issues and their social implications. Two Social Science clusters explore the social, political, and economic factors of sustainability. The Humanities cluster encourages critical thinking about the concepts of sustainability.

The minor includes core classes from all three sectors. Three electives can be chosen from natural sciences or social sciences. This minor is intentionally interdisciplinary as it was created by a Steering Committee composed of faculty from the Anthropology, Chemical Engineering, EES, Philosophy, and Political Science Departments.

More multidisciplinary options include the Environmental Engineering Minor comprised of classes from the EES and Chemical Engineering Departments.

Study abroad is another way to learn about sustainability. Often sustainability related courses taken abroad can count towards the minor or within one of the environmental majors offered by EES. An online directory on the Center for Study Abroad website for sustainability-related courses and programs that best supplement existing courses offered at the University will be available soon.

If any of these options do not quite appeal to your area of interest, you can create your own major through Center for Interdepartmental Programs. Two to three students create their own every year. Past majors have included Environmental Policy, Sustainable Planning and Development, and Environment and Society.

If you have any questions, please contact the Environmental Programs Curriculum Coordinator Karen Berger.