Though the university has offered minors in Environmental Studies and Environmental Science for 25 years, the possibility of making an environmental major available to students had never been seriously discussed until 2010.
Eleven years later, the first environmental majors will be able to walk across the graduation stage in 2021 as they receive a diploma for successful completion of either a B.A. in Environment and Sustainability Studies or a B.A. in Environmental Science.
Students will be able to declare a major in either of the environmental tracks beginning in the fall semester of 2020.
More than 50 students have expressed interest in these new majors, according to Lucas Johnston, co-director of the Environmental Program and associate professor of religion and environment.
Johnston kept track of who has met with him, signed up for updates or attended an informational session about the environmental majors.
“These majors check all the boxes,” Johnston said. “They represent what students want — genuinely interdisciplinary studies that allow them to pursue their passions; what employers want — creative problem-solvers who must navigate a globalizing world; and what Wake Forest wants — cohorts of graduates who pursue lifelong learning not just for a diploma, but for the good of humanity — Pro Humanitate.”
The demand for environmental majors has been demonstrated for some time by a number of students who have performed the tough work of establishing interdisciplinary majors in order to pursue their interests in sustainability studies or environmental science. There are also currently 43 students who have declared minors in either Environmental Studies or Environmental Science.
With the increasing desirability of a diploma in an environmental academic discipline, the approval of the environmental majors will also help the university to recruit high schoolers who are interested in sustainability and environmental studies. In the past, these prospective students have been lost to other universities with more robust offerings in these areas of study, according to data collected by the admissions office.
The new majors expand upon the university’s pre-existing academic offerings of environmental minors by enhancing students’ scientific preparation and providing more environmental offerings in the humanities and social sciences.
The specific course requirements for both tracks will include Global Environmental Issues (ENV 201), Leadership for Sustainability (ENV 203), Earth Systems (ENV 220), Biology I (BIO 150) and Biology II (BIO 160). Majors will also have to take additional courses in four identified areas of relevant academic study: social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and applied sustainability.
Academic offerings like the Leadership for Sustainability course are particularly impactful for many students. For instance, senior Alice Romanov reflected upon how her experience in the class inspired her to integrate ecoconsciousness throughout her various academic areas of interest and empowered her to become an advocate for environmental change.
“That class definitely solidified my commitment to orienting my career around sustainability,” said Romanov. “Although I only became academically involved in this program as a senior, it has been highly influential. I can only imagine the benefits and opportunities students who major in these new programs will have and the positive influence they will yield.”
Romanov now works as the green business network intern for the Office of Sustainability, demonstrating how students can effect change as environmental leaders by incorporating sustainable principles in their current endeavors and future careers.
All students declaring an environmental major will also have the opportunity to expand upon their academic learning through enrollment in a capstone course, real-word experience through an internship or completion of a research project with faculty.
Internships and assistantships for students interested in environmental science and studies are also offered through the Office of Sustainability, which will continue to support students interested in environmental science and sustainability studies. The office also directs the Campus as Lab program and the Leadership for Sustainability course, both of which introduce students to sustainability in an academic context. Likewise, the office remains committed to continue supporting and partnering with faculty across a wide array of disciplines that seek to integrate environmental science and sustainability into their courses.
Chief Sustainability Officer Dedee Johnston, who was a member of the multidisciplinary team that developed the new majors, believes that the new major tracks will enhance the academic offerings of the university and provide new opportunities for students.
“With the climate crisis upon us, all students will need to be literate about the impacts of climate change on their career sectors,” Johnston said. “Students who want to take a direct role in the study of these impacts or the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies, especially the human dimensions of change management, will benefit from these two new major tracks.”
Students who choose to pursue either of the environmental majors and receive training and experience in environmental science and sustainability will begin to meet the growing need for leaders, experts and professionals that has become imperative in light of the anthropogenic crisis of climate change.
With many benefits, the environmental majors are yet another landmark to celebrate this year, along with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, 25th anniversary of the university’s Environmental Program, 10th anniversary of the Office of Sustainability and fifth anniversary of the university’s Sustainability Graduate Programs. Each of these remarkable feats of environmental progress will be celebrated with relevant programming and events organized by the Office of Sustainability throughout Earth Month, which will center around the theme “Scaling Up Solutions for Climate Action” and last from March 22 to April 22.