Eliot Circular

Environmental Studies Gain Momentum

Prof. Keith Karoly [biology 1994–] chairs the environmental studies committee. Photo by Matt D'Annunzio

By Randall S. Barton

Reed’s environmental studies program, launched three years ago, is gaining momentum. The first two majors graduated in May, and so far 15 juniors and seniors have declared ES as their major for the 2013–14 academic year.

Now, thanks to some late gifts to the Centennial Campaign, Reed is poised to fund a new history position within the ES program. The history department may decide to launch the search as early as fall.

The late trustee John Gray made a gift that funded a related position in environmental studies and provided seed funding for this position. Trustee Dan Greenberg ’62 stepped in with the leading commitment to fund most of the $2.5 million endowment that supports it. The college still seeks additional support of $300,000 to complete funding.

The interdisciplinary ES program combines study in biology, chemistry, economics, history, or political science with work on environmental themes across the natural sciences, history, and social sciences. Five courses of study are offered, each concentrating in a home department with an environmental emphasis.

Majors take the junior qualifying exam in their home department as well as a research proposal–based junior qualifying exam evaluated by the environmental studies committee.

In addition to the faculty who were already teaching in related areas, two new positions were funded in chemistry and political science, and both of those positions have been filled. There has been agreement that the program would be most successful with four teaching positions, with the additional two being in history and biology.

With student interest in the new major running strong, the college found short-term funds to hire a two-year visiting professor in environmental history, who is now in his second year.

Keen interest in this area was demonstrated last spring, when celebrated environmental historian Bill Cronon drew crowds for his lectures as Reed’s 2013 Greenberg Scholar. Established with a gift from Dan Greenberg and his wife, Susan Steinhauser, the Greenberg Distinguished Scholar Program brings visiting scholars to campus to stimulate and support the work of students and provide faculty with opportunities for in-depth intellectual exchange with a prominent member in their field.