Changes coming to environmental science program

Eric Zuniga, Campus Carrier deputy news editor

            The Department of Environmental Science and Studies is planning to launch major changes to its programs and offerings beginning next fall. In addition to hiring two new faculty members, the department will also be streamlining its majors and minors. According to Brian Campbell, associate professor of anthropology and environmental studies, there will now be one environmental science and studies major with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) track and a Bachelor of Science (BS) track. 

            “We will have one major,” Campbell said. “You can do a BA, which leans environmental studies, leans Evans. You can do a BS, which leans math and natural science and leans environmental science, and this is all to streamline the process for students.”

            Previously, the department has offered one major in environmental science and two different majors in environmental studies. While the new tracks will emphasize either the natural sciences or the humanities and social sciences, Campbell said that the new program is intended to increase collaboration between students with different interests. 

            “The other thing that this does is create a cultural identity for all our majors,” Campbell said. “We want the artsy students to be talking to the science-y students and thinking about how they can work together. That needs to happen in society as a whole, and also in our department.”

            The department is also hiring two new faculty members, one of which will serve as a visiting assistant professor of environmental policy. According to Campbell, the hiring process is ongoing, with the search committee looking an excellent teacher with practical experience in formulating environmental policy. 

            “We want them to have experience with policy, with state-level government, federal-level government, and non-profit organizations, so that they can teach students what it’s going to be like. We want to give them real world experience and explanation,” Campbell said. “Our candidates are good. We’re pleased with what they’ve got under their belt.”

            The other new hire, Adrienne Ernst, will serve as a tenure-track professor teaching classes in environmental science. Zack Taylor, associate professor of environmental science, said that Ernst has a background in ecology and is planning on expanding research opportunities for students. 

            “[Ernst] has a PhD in ecology, so she’s a restoration ecologist. She does a lot of work with wetland species and grassland species and things like that,” Taylor said. “One of the things that we really wanted is people who could do research on campus, so she’s planning on getting that going as soon as she gets here.”

            These revisions to the program are the first step in a long-term overhaul of the environmental science and studies department. Gabriel Barreneche, dean of the Evans School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, said that the environmental policy professor is being hired on a visiting, temporary basis with the potential for the position to become tenure-track if the program grows.

            “We hope that this person will bring a lot of energy and vitality to the program, which we know attracts students,” Barreneche said. “We want to see a positive trend before we can kind of make that longer term commitment to the position.”

            The new faculty and the streamlined curriculum will allow the environmental studies department to offer a broader range of classes. According to Campbell, with the department’s expansion, it will be easier for students to fulfill their degree requirements.

“Previously we had to depend on other departments to provide us with some classes, and now we control all of our core classes,” Campbell said. “There’s no scrambling for classes or lots of substitutions—I’ve done a million substitution forms to make sure my students got what they needed, and that was not practical.”

            The environmental science and studies department is one of the largest on campus, with 63 majors and 16 minors. With only two faculty members currently, it also has one of the highest teaching and advising loads. Campbell said that the new faculty will help ease this load and allow him to provide more hands-on opportunities for students. 

            “I’m going teach a community food systems class every semester,” Campbell said. “We’ll be delivering vegetables to the food pantry; we’ll be doing all this stuff hands-on every semester, and I previously would not have been able to do that, just because I was too burdened teaching what we needed.”

            The Department of Environmental Science and Studies is unique among Berry’s academic programs, straddling both the Evans School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. According to Taylor, the department sees appreciation of the humanities and social sciences along with natural sciences as essential to addressing environmental challenges.

            “If you were working in that area, you have to know both of those things. It’s not a question,” Taylor said. “The problems we would like our students to address are explicitly interdisciplinary.”

            The department strongly emphasizes practical learning experiences and community service in its teaching. Taylor said that the program offers many opportunities for students to get involved in environmental initiatives in the Rome area. 

             “We have managed to put ourselves in the center of this hub of people who are doing cool things, and oftentimes they involve our students,” Taylor said. “We have students on the controlled burn team, so three students now go burn stuff all spring and do that.”

            Taylor added that the program has a track record of supporting outstanding student research. 

            “I’ve had students go present at national conferences,” Taylor said. “My research students from a couple summers ago, we wrote it up and it got published this week, like on Monday we had an article get published.”

            Above all, the environmental science program has the unique advantage of access to the world’s largest campus with an abundance of natural resources. Campbell said that he hopes with the department’s expansion Berry will be recognized for an outstanding environmental science and studies program.

            “We should be the premiere environmental science and studies department in the southeast with this campus. We have the resources to do it,” Campbell said. “We need more staff and faculty to really utilize the ecological resources we have on this campus. What we could do is amazing.”

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