Environmental Studies at Macalester College

Environmental Studies is an interdisciplinary department based on a holistic understanding of environmental issues occurring at the local, national, and global level. The department teaches students to use the tools and perspectives of the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences to understand the causes and consequences of environmental problems and to develop solutions to these problems.

The learning goals for our students include:

  • The ability to think systematically about complicated problems.
  • The ability to recognize and communicate with diverse kinds of specialists.
  • The ability to understand the premises of diverse disciplines.
  • The ability to appreciate the nature of scientific uncertainty and controversy.
  • The capacity for consensus building and appreciation of group dynamics.
  • The ability to appreciate the nature of our species, spirituality, aesthetics, and relationships and differences among cultures.

Consistent with Macalester’s mission statement, which emphasizes internationalism, and in recognition of the global nature of many environmental issues, the faculty encourages students to participate in off-campus national and international programs of study and research.

Department History

In May 1972, the faculty at Macalester College adopted in principle an Environmental Studies (ES) concentration. In spring 1973, a specific proposal was developed and the program began the following fall. Students were required to take 6 courses in one department, 6 supporting courses, and 2 new ES courses – a senior seminar and an introductory course. Students either could graduate with this concentration alone, or they could also obtain a major in the other department (students at Macalester were able to graduate with a concentration only until the late 1990s when the faculty voted to require a major for graduation).

The program was led by a Coordinator and a Coordinating Committee consisting of faculty members from the geography, geology, chemistry, political science, economics, and philosophy departments. In spring 1982, the Coordinating Committee revised the major and made the requirements more stringent. The new set of requirements, which were continued with only minor modifications until 2000, required students to complete a major (or core) in an approved department, as well as some additional course requirements (Principles of Economics, Physical Geography, Physical Geology and Ecology or Biodiversity), an internship and a senior capstone course.

A new ES Director was hired at the start of the 1998-1999 academic year.  This position was added as part of a general expansion of the size of the faculty during which a number of interdisciplinary programs, including ES, were granted their first “stand alone” positions. New courses were added as requirements:  an introductory Environmental Science course and a junior-level course in Environmental Policy Analysis. New requirements for the major were also developed.

In 2003-2004, Macalester’s Educational Policy and Governance Committee (EPAG) recommended to the faculty that the current Environmental Studies (ES) Program be converted into an interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Department under criteria previously developed and adopted by EPAG and the faculty. The faculty endorsed the creation of the Department of Environmental Studies, and two professors were hired with specialties in Environmental History and Environmental Policy.  In 2008, a third full-time position was added in the field of Climate Science.  The department is now staffed with 4 FTE and will continue to draw on courses from faculty in other departments.

In 2006, the Macalester Faculty approved the addition of a minor to supplement the major in Environmental Studies.