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Environmental Studies

Mission Statement

Environmental Literacy, Career Paths and Citizenship

Responding wisely to the environmental challenges humanity is certain to face in the coming century will require collaboration among experts in many fields: elected officials, government staff, environmental advocates, business leaders, scientists, lawyers, consultants, architects, religious leaders and many other professionals. Yet in a pluralist democracy, effective, farsighted environmental governance requires more than professional expertise. It also hinges on the thoughtfulness and responsibility of ordinary citizens in their roles as producers, consumers, parents, voters, and volunteers. The challenges for environmental studies at Bowdoin are twofold: to encourage broad environmental literacy through course offerings and co-curricular activities available to all students, and to build a solid foundation for the diverse environmentally-related career paths many of our graduates will follow.

Three convictions guide the design of Bowdoin's coordinate environmental studies major. First, students' academic foundation should be both disciplinary and inter-disciplinary, fostering an integrated understanding. Second, it should encompass perspectives from the curriculum's three broad divisions - humanities, natural science, and social science. Third, it should offer abundant opportunities for students to supplement their academic learning with experiences outside the classroom, helping them to discover their vocations, acquire practical skills, form lifelong habits, and develop networks of relationships.

Shaping a Sense of Place: From the Local to the Global

Bowdoin's location on the Maine coast and our resources for coastal studies are extraordinary assets that offer unique opportunities. The ES Program will encourage every student to experience the fascination of our place at the edge of the north Atlantic. We will do this by building on precedents that include courses, such as the present Gulf of Maine and land use planning seminars, and projects, such as the Merrymeeting Bay watershed planning and the Sustainable Bowdoin Initiative. And we will take advantage of exceptional facilities: the Orr's Island Coastal Studies Center, the Bowdoin Pines, and the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island.

Our view is not limited to the Maine coast, however. Bowdoin's ES faculty are involved in research and public policy initiatives affecting the rest of Maine and New England, including forest management, habitat protection, oil spill detection, transportation planning, sustainable agriculture, and ecotourism. Maine also frames the creative work of several participating faculty painters, photographers, architects, and writers. We seek to make Maine and northern New England a home and a laboratory for our students through courses, independent study and honors projects, research assistantships, internships, lectures, conferences, and opportunities for political engagement.

Some years ago Hazel Henderson urged environmentalists to, "Think globally, act locally." However, as we come to understand the dense social and ecological webs that connect local actions with regional, national and international consequences - and especially as we confront new environmental challenges at a global scale - it becomes evident that environmental professionals and environmentally literate citizens must be prepared to think and act wisely at every level, from the local to the global. Here, too, Bowdoin Environmental Studies builds on precedents, including our Arctic Studies Program, our charter membership in the Woods Hole Semester in Environmental Science consortium, and our faculty research affiliations with institutions as far flung as Alaska, Costa Rica, the Cameroon, and Sweden.

Connections Beyond the Classroom

Environmental literacy requires more than a mastery of subject matter; ultimately, it is a way of thinking, experiencing and acting. The ES Program complements its course offerings with many co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. ES co-sponsors a winter-long series of talks with the Friends of Merrymeeting Bay.

The ES staff offers guidance to students seeking information and contacts for off-campus study, internships, graduate programs and employment. Building an endowment to underwrite internships for students with financial need is a high priority. We are also working to build an alumni network and list employment opportunities, using the Environmental Studies Program's web site.

* To offer students an inter-disciplinary introduction to environmental studies
Our gateway course, ES 101, is team taught by a humanist, a scientist, and a social scientist. Students acquire basic analytical tools and investigate major environmental problems through a mix of lectures and small group work. Public talks and symposia coordinated with the syllabus bring students into contact with experts, advocates and policy makers in fields such as fisheries management, land use planning, regulatory enforcement, and conservation biology.

* To ensure that ES majors have a grounding in natural science, public policy, and humanistic perspectives

* To expose ES majors to current environmental problems and policy issues from local, national and global viewpoints
ES 101 and many capstone seminars are issue-oriented. Speakers, conferences, internship experiences, and "greening the campus" projects complement issue-oriented course work.

* To offer diverse elective courses and capstone seminars in each major curricular division
Recent capstone offerings include Global Change Ecology, Feeding the World, Home: History, Culture and Design of Housing, Ecology and Environmental History of Merrymeeting Bay, Advanced Seminar in Geology, Advanced Seminar in Environmental Policy and Politics, and Advanced Winter Field Ecology.

* To facilitate independent scholarly investigation
Majors are encouraged to undertake independent study and honors projects, working closely with faculty advisors.

* To encourage students to seek off campus study opportunities
Bowdoin participates in several environmentally-oriented programs in the United States and abroad.

* To attract more minority and international students to the study of environmental processes and problems
An effort is underway to broaden ecological literacy beyond the student groups that have historically made up ES' predominant constituency. This includes expanding the range of cross-listed courses in the humanities and social sciences and, in particular, offering more courses that deal with issues of environmental justice and the environmental challenges facing so-called third world nations.