Tag: Climate crisis

Environmental Science major launches; adds path to climate-focused research

Catherine Wagoner ’22 sifts soil during hydroponics research in December. She was among the Lawrence students doing research with geosciences professor Relena Ribbons, who is part of the faculty group that built the new Environmental Science major. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University has launched a new Environmental Science major, giving science-minded students with an interest in environmental research a more concentrated path.

The major, running parallel with Lawrence’s long-established Environmental Studies major, taps into deep expertise in Lawrence’s science faculty on topics ranging from urban ecology and tectonics to soil biology and atmospheric chemistry. Approved in a recent faculty vote following two years of study, the new major will be available beginning in Fall Term, said Environmental Studies chair Jason Brozek, the Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs and associate professor of government.

The new major speaks to the growing interest and career paths tied to the climate crisis and the desire by students to do hands-on research in environmental protection. For some students, it will provide a clearer path to graduate school.

“Environmental Studies has always evolved to fit the needs of students, and we see this as a step that builds on our strengths and makes our long-standing program even more robust,” Brozek said. “One of the goals is to help students feel prepared for graduate programs and careers in the environmental sciences—without sacrificing the interdisciplinary perspective that our Environmental Studies program has been built on for more than two decades.”

Lawrence continues to excel in STEM fields. Read more here.

The particulars of the major came out of a working faculty group that involved numerous science professors—Marcia Bjornerud, Jeff Clark, Andrew Knudsen, and Relena Ribbons from the Geology Department, Israel Del Toro from Biology, and Deanna Donohoue from Chemistry.

As has been done elsewhere on campus, this was an opportunity to create space for more than one major under the same umbrella. The Environmental Studies program remains, but under that banner students will be able to major in Environmental Studies or Environmental Science.

“Both are interdisciplinary majors made up of courses from a wide range of different disciplines, and both will guide students from early exploration through advanced independent research,” Brozek said

The Environmental Studies major will continue to explore environmental issues through a multitude of lenses—scientific, political, economic, and cultural. The Environmental Science major, meanwhile, will focus more on hands-on scientific research.

The annual BioFest: Senior Symposium allows biology students to showcase their research. (Photo by Ellie Younger)

There are opportunities here in Appleton and in the surrounding northeast Wisconsin region for students to engage more broadly in authentic, meaningful, and focused environmental science research, Clark said. The research not only provides valuable hands-on learning experiences for the students but also serves important public service functions.

“Our students want to be engaged in real-world problem-solving, and the Environmental Science major provides the background to tackle these problems,” Clark said.

Attention to the climate crisis is growing as evidence of distress becomes increasingly perilous. Employment opportunities are following suit, with career paths expanding in everything from climate modeling and environmental engineering to water resource management and sustainability. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected an 8% growth in employment of environmental scientists and specialists over the course of this decade. 

For some students with an eye on the environment, the interest is in the political, policy, or economic realm. For a growing number of others, it’s in the science. Thus, Lawrence providing a new path of study that focuses squarely on environmental science is reflective of what more and more students are asking for, Brozek said.

“I think all of us do feel the urgency of the climate crisis, and we see that in our students who are looking for the sort of hands-on, experiential learning that can help them become more effective environmental advocates, experts, and leaders,” he said.

Bjornerud, the Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Sciences and professor of geology and the author of the 2018 book, Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, said the makeup of the new major shows how environmental study has evolved since Lawrence launched its Environmental Studies program more than 20 years ago.

“In that time, scientific understanding of climate, ecosystems, biogeochemical cycles, and human interaction with these complex natural phenomena has become far deeper and more nuanced,” she said. “Students today need a different conceptual tool kit to be ready for work or graduate study in the environmental studies. Fortunately, Lawrence science faculty members have expertise spanning all aspects of the environment, from the chemistry of the atmosphere, water and soils; to terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems; to climate and global change over a wide range of time scales.”

Current students interested in switching to the Environmental Science major can do so, but they’ll want to consult with their advisor first to see how the major’s requirements mesh with courses they’ve already taken, Brozek said.

For prospective or incoming students, it’s one more option to consider if they’re exploring the rapidly expanding career paths tied to the environment and climate change.

“Whether students picture a career in environmental justice or hydrology or policy analysis—or all three—we hope they see Lawrence as a good fit for them,” Brozek said. “Environmental Science is another springboard for the next generation of environmental leaders.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Burstein calls for thoughtful, impactful leadership on global climate crisis

President Mark Burstein speaks at the podium from the stage of Memorial Chapel during Thursday's Matriculation Convocation.
Lawrence University President Mark Burstein speaks during Thursday’s Matriculation Convocation in Memorial Chapel.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University President Mark Burstein, speaking Thursday at the Matriculation Convocation to launch the school’s 2019-20 academic year, encouraged members of the Lawrence community to provide constructive leadership on the growing global climate crisis, and to bridge political differences along the way.

Burstein called the climate crisis “the central challenge facing society today,” and said it is the university’s responsibility to teach climate science to its students, to raise awareness of the issues and challenges and to converse respectfully with people who dismiss the science.

“It is crucial that we engage with those who dismiss the findings of 97% of climate scientists who now confirm that a climate crisis has begun, and that human activity is a root cause,” Burstein said as he addressed faculty, students and staff in Memorial Chapel on the fourth day of the fall term. “We need to continue to broaden the learning opportunities we offer and to avoid partisan framing of the climate crisis if we aim to reach all of our students, faculty, and staff. Thanks to the interdisciplinary nature of the Environmental Studies program, we offer a wide array of learning opportunities for students to consider how human activity impacts the natural world.”

The convocation, the first of three to be held during the academic year, included the traditional march of faculty, adorned in their academic dress, and music from students of the entering class. But it was Burstein’s call for climate crisis leadership that took center stage.

Faculty members, adorned in their academic dress, proceed from the Music-Drama Center to Memorial Chapel on Thursday.
Lawrence University faculty move their procession toward Memorial Chapel for Thursday morning’s annual Matriculation Convocation.

He encouraged those in attendance to draw on their own experiences with nature, to consider deeply how human activity is affecting resources we interact with close to home and on our travels.

“Experiences can sensitize us to the deep and far-reaching effect that the climate crisis will have,” Burstein said. “My year as a farmer during a break between high school and college changed my views and established conservation as central to my personal values. Living directly in the cycle of a dairy farm significantly influenced the way I thought about the natural world.

“I’m sure you have your own connections to nature. Could we find ways to encourage all of us to explore the rich natural resources of northeastern Wisconsin and Door County? Could this be a way to reach students who might otherwise avoid enrolling in an Environmental Studies course or joining an environmental organization? Are there ways we can more closely tie the prodigious natural world that surrounds us into our curriculum?”

Burstein highlighted the fires that are threatening the Amazon, the extreme conditions affecting areas from Alaska and the Arctic to the Canary Islands and California, and the increasingly extreme weather patterns being experienced here in the Midwest.

He noted statistics from the World Bank that show an average of 24 million people per year since 2008 being displaced by weather events, and projections that those numbers will rise dramatically.

Lawrence has initiatives in place and established programs available to teach about environmental issues, be it from economic, policy, cultural, biological, chemical, or geoscience perspectives. Impressive gains in recent years have been guided by faculty members such as Jeff Clark, Marcia Bjornerud, and David Gerard, and sustainability coordinator Kelsey McCormick. But, Burstein said, there’s more work to be done all across campus to better inform and engage on the challenges we face now and those we’ll be handing off to future generations.

He pointed to the polarizing effect politics is having on the climate crisis debate, and implored those in the Lawrence community to stay attentive no matter how frustrating it might get.

“Even those who agree that a climate crisis is real approach the issue now with an incapacitating fatigue,” Burstein said.

“No amount of improved communication seems to weaken the feeling that this crisis is inevitable, that nothing we do can change the course of this unfolding natural disaster,” he added. “This attitude prevents important interventions.”

President Mark Burstein speaks during Thursday's convocation in Memorial Chapel.
Memorial Chapel drew faculty, students and staff on Thursday for the Matriculation Convocation. It was the first of three convocations that will be held this academic year.

Protecting the environment and prepping the Earth for future generations hasn’t always been embedded in a political chasm. When the leaders of 12 national environmental organizations were asked to rank the “greenest” U.S. presidents, they chose Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama, in that order, Burstein said.

“Two Republicans and two Democrats,” he said. “Conservation was central to Teddy Roosevelt’s vision for America’s future. He preserved land and natural beauty at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and hundreds of other locations across the country. Richard Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency, banned DDT, and created the regulatory infrastructure that continues to this day. But this public consensus is disappearing.”

It’s time to reclaim the conversation, Burstein said, challenging college campuses to lead the way, to infuse climate science across the curriculum and to foster intelligent and productive conversation, all the while prepping tomorrow’s leaders to be environmentally astute and informed no matter their political affiliations.

“For us, now, to engage our entire community, we must provide a learning environment in which we can all participate without criticism or rejection,” Burstein said.

“I hope you will commit yourselves, with me, to making sure that this generation of Lawrentians will graduate with the knowledge, the tools, and the energy to provide leadership on the most important challenge that faces all of us in this century.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu