||Centre's cool courses: environmental studies
RELEASED: October 15, 2009
By Laura Pasley
DANVILLE, KY— Environmental studies is a popular minor at Centre College, and it's getting students and faculty thinking about the environment in creative ways.
Divided into three parts, the minor seeks to give students a fundamental background, allows them to choose classes that fit a particular focus, and gives them a senior capstone project to execute the theories they have learned.
Though this minor is well rounded, it's by no means standard for every student.
A variety of discipline is offered—from biology to philosophy to economics to English—providing every student a different experience.
Sophomore Andrew Reed '12 of Louisville will be declaring a minor in environmental studies this spring, when all sophomores choose their majors and minors. His decision to complement his intended biology major was easy, he says, because "I get inspired and excited about the classes I take in environmental studies."
One such class is "Getting Back to Nature," an English class taught by Dr. Dan Manheim, Stodghill Professor of English.
"All of the authors we read are in one way or another interested in getting back to nature, not just physically, but mentally," Manheim says. "In some ways, language is what separates humans from non-human nature, but language is also one of the ways of restoring us to the non-human world. We explore the ways literature can achieve that restoration."
Though American literature seems far from Reed's intended biology major, the class is becoming one of his favorites at Centre.
"Authors like Thoreau, Emerson, Leopold, Dickenson and Frost keep the class's intellect focused on the value of wilderness in society's past, present and future," he says. "So far, it's swept the field as the candidate for best class I've taken here at Centre."
Many of the classes in the environmental studies minor try to incorporate spending as much time in nature as possible.
Manheim's class has planned informal field trips to the local historic site Shakertown. "It's great to have informal conversations about the material when we have things all around us that are relevant to what we're talking about," Manheim says.
"I want students to consider other people's environmental ethics: how people's diversity of experiences—upbringings, jobs, home places and communities—can lead to a diversity of environmental worldviews and ethics," he says. "For this, groups of students are getting out in the community and trying to understand the complex environmental ethics of people in the real world."
Werner explains that environmental ethics acts as a supplement to a more science-oriented approach to the environment.
"Sometimes science itself, or public understanding and awareness of science, can motivate people to act, but the values, ethics and worldviews of people are far more likely to provide this kind of motivation, whether through a conception of Christian stewardship, utilitarian reasoning, or the worldviews and reasoning of indigenous peoples."
A third course in the minor, "Intro to Environmental Economics," approaches the environment in a more technological way.
Taught by Dr. David Anderson, Paul G. Blazer Professor of Economics, the course offers students "a set of tools with which to find specific answers to difficult questions."
"In environmental economics," Anderson says, "students learn tools for determining the best allocation of scarce resources. We also study solutions to challenging problems including extinction, pollution, water and energy shortages, global climate change, habitat loss, population growth and environmental disputes."
Students in this class also step outside the classroom in order to experience different facets of the topic.
The course is form-fitted to the types of real-world examples of environmental economics present in Danville. Field trips planned for the course include visits to a solar home, an organic farm, a managed forest and factories. And the course textbook, Environmental Economics and Natural Resource Management, is written by Anderson himself.
Students interested in the environmental studies minor can choose from classes such as these to build their own focus, which is what attracted Reed to the minor in the first place.
"The minor consists of all environmental studies, not just the sciences," he says. "Because of this, a student in the minor takes classes that incorporate ethics, history, economics and sciences to fully enrich themselves in the complexities of the environment and how we as humans change and are changed by nature."
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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