Environmental Studies Home at Last
Sept. 3, 2009 -- In the west wing on the first floor of the newly renovated Kelley Hall the Environmental Studies (ENVS) department is settling in to its first permanent home.
Previously faculty members had their offices located in various buildings across campus.
ENVS was first offered as a minor in 1992 and as a major in 2000.
John Hausdoerffer is the director of the Environmental Studies department. "A physical home gives the Environmental Studies student a unique identity," he said. "It also gives the entire campus a place to join the conversation (about environmental issues) and to help us with solutions."
The wing has been named the Center for Environmental Studies. It is not simply a physical space but a hub for student projects and a place to gather and discuss ideas. Additionally the projects that the ENVS program supports are included in the Center.
"We have accomplished so much without a home," Hausdoerffer said. "I can't imagine what students will accomplish with one."
Among the projects that ENVS students have been involved with are the college's Environmental Charter, the President's Commitment to the Climate (PCC), an increased recycling program, the Sustainability Fund and the Kakamega Environmental Education Program (KEEP) in Kenya. The Sustainability Coalition is a popular student organization.
Loren Ahonen, a junior ENVS and Political science major at Western, and Mandi Leigh, a senior Biology major, used the sustainability fund, which is allotted from student fees each semester, to pay for solar panels that will be installed in Kelley Hall. This marks the beginning of the use of solar at Western. Ahonen hopes their efforts will, "spark more ideas about student led initiatives to make our campus a better place."
Ahonen was himself inspired by the PCC, which demands that Western reduce its CO2 output 80% by the year 2050. The PCC was signed by President Helman after encouragement by Western students.
"People here understand that our actions have implications on the planet," he added.
Hausdoerffer has been impressed with the projects that students have spearheaded, and he calls the relationship between activism and learning in the classroom, "mutually reinforcing." He also stresses the importance of asking, "What are the problems with our solutions?"
"Learning requires action but there must be an intellectual distance (between those actions), " he stated. "The activities of the environmental movement are strengthened by the critical questions from academia."
Hausdoerffer also comments that schools of thought from other disciplines are essential in ENVS. In fact the ENVS major requires courses from several other areas of study. Hausdoerffer and Monica Newman, the chair of the Business, Accounting and Economics department, report that a double ENVS and Business major is in the planning stages. "You cannot answer Environmental Studies questions without perspectives from other disciplines," Hausdoerffer said.
Danielle Slaby, a junior ENVS and Exercise and Sports Science seconded that notion. "An interdisciplinary approach is important, so that we are not just seeing things from the classic environmentalist approach."
As the ENVS department finally settles into its first central location in a building on campus Hausdoerffer feels the program is in a position to become a top program in the country; in an ideal location.
"There is no place with more research opportunities than here," he said. "Because of our complicated economic issues, the amount of public lands, diverse environmental organizations and the biodiversity of the area there is no better laboratory for the 21st century than at Western."
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations