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Environmental Studies Will Debut As a Major This Fall

Assoc. Prof. Noah Snyder (Earth and Environmental Sciences), director of the Environmental Studies Program. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Mar. 13, 2014

Beginning in September, Boston College will offer a new interdisciplinary major in environmental studies, a bachelor of arts degree developed around faculty strengths in several departments and growing student interest in a range of environmental issues tied to some of the planet’s most pressing problems.

Freshmen are eligible to apply in May for admission to the first group of 15 Environmental Studies majors, said Earth and Environmental Sciences Associate Professor Noah Snyder, director of the Environmental Studies Program, which previously offered only a minor.

Snyder said the time is right for the University to add the new major.

“First, we have the expertise across the University to build a strong program,” said Snyder. “Second, students have told us they are very interested in a social science-based, interdisciplinary environmental studies major.”

The move fits into broader, national trends as well. US News & World Report has called environmental studies one of nine “new college majors with a future.”

Building on the strengths of faculty in multiple departments, the major will expand collaborations among faculty and students throughout the College of Arts and Sciences, he said. In addition to Snyder, the working group that developed the major included faculty from the Political Science, Sociology, Biology, History and Philosophy departments and BC Law School.

The major will consist of a minimum of 43 credits, or 14 full-semester classes, including four introductory environmental systems courses, two courses in environmental studies and a year-long senior seminar.

Each environmental studies major will need to complete a six-course concentration in one of two theme-based tracks – Food and Water Sustainability or Climate Change and Societal Adaptation – or in the discipline of History, Political Science or Sociology.

The major adds another option for students interested in the environment, joining the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department’s bachelor of science degree in environmental geoscience and BS in Geological Sciences, as well as the ES minor. Combined, the current programs serve 160 students.

A sampling of courses includes the Economics Department’s Environmental Economics, History’s People and Nature, Sociology’s Society and Environmental Transformations, Philosophy’s Environmental Ethics and the University course Environmental Law and Policy.

After an extensive academic review, the Office of the Provost and College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean David Quigley approved the new major in January. It is the first new interdisciplinary degree since the creation of the Islamic Civilization and Societies major. The University also offers interdisciplinary majors in Biochemistry, Film Studies and International Studies.

Quigley said these programs have succeeded in connecting faculty from different specialties who share intersecting interests.

“Our undergraduates have benefited from interdisciplinary majors like International Studies and Islamic Civilization and Societies over the last decade, and these programs have helped develop faculty collaborations in important areas,” said Quigley. “I’m pleased to welcome Environmental Studies as our newest interdisciplinary major in Arts and Sciences, and I look forward to strengthening teaching and research on the environment.”

Click here for more information about the new environmental studies major.