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Environmental studies minor to launch fall 2015

By Salem Hagdu     4/8/15 5:16pm

A new environmental studies minor will be available to undergraduate students next fall, according to Dominic Boyer, co-chair of the Environmental Studies Faculty Working Group. 

Rice currently offers several degree programs related to environmental issues: an energy and water sustainability minor, an environmental earth science track within the earth science major and an environmental studies second major. However, the second major requires students take at least thirteen 300-400 level courses, making it  difficult for students from other majors to add.

Boyer, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences and a professor of anthropology, said there is room for a holistic environmental studies minor in Rice’s current offerings.

 “[The environmental studies major is] very very heavy on the science component and lighter on the humanities and social sciences component, so we kept hearing from students that these programs were all very effective in a more narrow sense, but if a student wanted to get an introduction to environmental problems more holistically and comprehensively, they were not as effective,” Boyer said.

The new environmental studies minor will serve as an introduction to environmental issues for students of all majors. Boyer said the working group designed it to be interdisciplinary, with  courses from a wide variety of departments. 

“38 different departments and programs [teach] courses related to environment and sustainability issues, which is a lot of departments,” Boyer said. 

The minor will use current faculty and will not require Rice to hire, according to Boyer.

To develop the minor, the working group asked for student and faculty input on current environmental studies course. Boyer said he never heard anyone oppose the idea of a more holistically conceived minor, and that both students and professors were overwhelmingly in favor of an environmental studies minor. The working group also placed questions related to the minor on the fall 2014 Survey of All Students. 

“When we asked if students supported forming an environmental studies minor, 61 percent said yes and about 300 students said they would have considered taking the minor had it been available to them when they started at Rice,” Boyer said.

Rice Environmental Society president Ashley Ugarte said the minor was a great step for Rice. She and other students participated in the town hall meeting and showed student support for the minor.

“I’m really excited. It’s great. You know something that students and the administration have been working on,” Ugarte, a Martel College senior, said. “If I could start over and take this minor, I would.”

Boyer said in the past few days, six or seven students have contacted him about the minor. Seniors who have already taken the courses cross-listed in the minor and in their own degree programs need to take only the new Environment, Culture and Society (ENST 100) core course to complete the minor. Boyer said he cannot determine how many students will be taking the courses next year, but is hopeful because the numbers on the survey show there is demand for the minor. 

The working group consists of faculty from the schools of Architecture, Engineering, Humanities, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences.

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