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Saint Mary‘s implements new environmental studies major

| Friday, August 24, 2018

This academic school year marks the official launching of a new major in environmental studies offered at Saint Mary’s. Last spring, the program was approved by the Academic Affairs Counsel after a yearlong process of researching and planning for the curriculum.

Historically, implementing a new major requires a two-year period in order to thoroughly understand the program’s vision, cost and demand, professor of environmental studies Christopher Cobb said. However, Cobb and professor of biology Cassie Majetic co-chaired the initiative on an accelerated time table to create the environmental studies major in one year. Cobb said one of the major motivating factors throughout the process was living out the College’s mission.

Majetic said ever since the minor was established seven years ago, students have always shown interest toward majoring in environmental studies. Within two years, questions regarding a major surfaced. One Saint Mary’s student developed her own “student designed” major in environmental studies when the minor was the only option, Majetic said. Now, environmental studies is a significant interest among the students.

Majetic said she spent the entirety of 2017’s summer developing the program’s core elements. In the following months, an innovation team composed of Saint Mary’s faculty from 15 different departments formed to propel the project further. The variety of faculty ranged from departments such as biology, philosophy, English, political science, art, education, math, economics and more.

“We wanted a truly interdisciplinary program,” she said. “We wanted the major to be authentically Saint Mary’s.”

The innovation team’s efforts culminated into a final proposal, which was presented to the Board of Trustees and then approved by the Academic Affairs Counsel. Once the new major was publicly announced, a number of Saint Mary’s students asked about declaring a major in environmental studies.

“Admissions is super excited to advertise the new major,” Majetic added.

In accordance with the College’s mission statement, Cobb said the class reflects themes from “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis’s encyclical on care for the environment. 

“‘Laudato si,’ [Pope Francis’s encyclical letter] makes it clear that everyone is called to creation care,” he said. “Environmental justice is very much a part of the charism of the Sisters [of the Holy Cross]. The direction we are going is very much consistent with their mission.”

In addition, Cobb shared some of the team’s intentions that helped sculpt the vision of this program.

“We were mindful that we wanted the major to connect with the natural area, the sustainable farm and the built environment of the campus as a space for learning about and practicing sustainability,” he said.

Majetic said she was willing to meet with any students who have questions regarding the new major.

She said she believes instituting the major aligns with Saint Mary’s’ Catholic mission.

“We think, as a Catholic institution, we have a call to this work,” she said. “We have students who are very interested in this kind of work.”

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