Matilda Kreider: Environmental science department would confirm commitment to sustainability

Updated: Nov. 17, 2016 at 11:51 a.m.

At my high school, A.P. Environmental Science was one of the most popular courses. It was well-taught, interesting and challenging. The course inspired me and many of my friends from home to pursue academic paths related to the environment, such as environmental science, environmental law, sustainability studies and earth science. Perhaps because of my high school experience, I expected GW to offer robust options within environmental science. Students here tend to be politically active and well-versed in current events, so I thought it would be natural for those interests in current issues to extend to taking classes on the environment.

But when I was considering majors at the start of freshman year, I realized that although students could major in environmental science, there is no department dedicated to providing infrastructure and support to students in the major.

Officials stress the importance of sustainability at GW, but they have failed to show this commitment to the environment in the University’s academic departments. The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences does offer an environmental science major and the Office of the Provost provides a sustainability minor for students in any school. But the major is currently a subset of the department of geography and the Sustainability Collaborative – which directs the sustainability minor. This isn’t a substitute for a fully developed department for environmental science. In order for environmental science majors to receive a comprehensive, meaningful education, GW needs to establish an environmental science department with its own faculty and courses.

If GW wants to effectively educate the next generation of environmental scientists, officials should either consolidate the geography, sustainability and geology departments and add faculty members or create an entirely new department. A major without a department is less likely to have a full faculty dedicated to the subject, which can lead to less sufficient advising and fewer course offerings each semester.

The lack of infrastructure for my major resulted in an extremely frustrating class registration. As I searched for classes for both the fall and spring semesters, I was shocked by how few of the environmental science classes I need were being offered. Not only will it be difficult for me to finish my major on time, but the lack of classes might make the major less appealing to other students. Because there is no departmental infrastructure or faculty directing this specific major, it’s difficult to advocate for more classes to be added. An environmental science department could change this because more faculty would be available to teach classes. Also, faculty in an environmental science department could provide valuable advising for students.

An environmental science department would also draw students into studying the environment because they might be more interested in picking up a major that has a developed department and faculty behind it. Because the environmental science major is currently tucked away in the geography department, some students may not even know that the major exists. Our concern for the environment as a student body is already evidenced by sustainability-related student organizations, and those students might be interested in pursuing environmental science if there was more academic programming behind it. And beyond college, the environmental science field is rapidly growing. It’s a major that will likely lead students to jobs after graduation.

GW wouldn’t be the first university to create a department dedicated to environmental science. Many of GW’s peer schools, including New York and American universities, have environmental science departments. Georgetown University offers a slightly different take. Georgetown’s environmental science programs are supported by its Center for the Environment, and the university also offers environmental biology. Many state and Ivy League universities boast entire environmental schools or at least departments, too.

By overlooking the popularity and importance of environmental science, GW is missing an opportunity to be in step with peer universities. As our planet rapidly changes, due in part to human actions, it is essential that we educate more students about the environment.

It is time for GW, both as an administration and as a student body, to recognize the importance of environmental science beyond campaigns for sustainability and fossil fuel divestment. While these organizations foster interest and give students a way to take action, they don’t give students the tools to have careers in environmental science, law or advocacy. We should make sure we are on the right side of history when it comes to something as important as the environment.

Matilda Kreider, a freshman double-majoring in political communication and environmental studies, is a Hatchet opinions writer.Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the sustainability minor is in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. It is run through the provost’s office. The Hatchet also incorrectly reported that the Office of Sustainability manages the major. The Sustainability Collaborative works with the major. We regret these errors.

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