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Expanding Environmental Education

May 3, 2010

mellon_feature.jpgDePauw has received a $595,000 three-year grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create new and innovative opportunities for students and faculty members related to interdisciplinary environmental education.

The University’s grant proposal to The Mellon Foundation states its "intention is to produce broadly educated graduates who can think critically and analytically, and are equipped to deal with complex environmental problems using tools and approaches from multiple disciplines. In this respect, environmental education at DePauw will be an overt model of what the University community believes a liberal arts education should be."

The co-coordinators of the program are James “Jim” H. Benedix, professor of biology, and Michele T. Villinski, associate professor of economics and management. Together, they are working with colleagues from the sciences, social sciences and humanities to provide leadership in the oversight of these new initiatives.

“It’s a well-timed and exciting opportunity for DePauw to receive this funding from the Mellon Foundation to enable us to really look at what we already have as far as environmental offerings in the curriculum,” Villinski says. “It allows us to think about how we’d like to expand or enhance what we already offer, and how we can create programs of study in environmental studies as well as environmental science.”

“Given all the things that have gone on at DePauw during the last several years – students and faculty members becoming more aware of and more active in environmental issues – it’s clear that there is a lot of student interest in translating that or having a parallel component on the academic side.

“New students arriving at DePauw will definitely have a role in helping to shape and populate these new programs as we develop them,” Villinski says. “So if somebody wants to be in on the ground floor of something, it could be really exciting.”

The Mellon grant will enable DePauw to support two faculty members (one recently hired, one new) who will enhance environmental course offerings and research opportunities for students; support the development of new courses and the addition of environmental modules to existing courses; fund aCopenhagen front-page.jpg variety of co-curricular activities, including colloquia and workshops; continue support for the DePauw Environmental Policy Project (DEPP); and develop two interdisciplinary majors – one focused in the sciences and the other in the social sciences and humanities.

“The money is there to lay the groundwork to create these new majors,” Benedix says. “We already have a lot of environmental offerings in the curriculum, but there is going to be that much more because there is a lot of support for it. We have an amazing number of faculty members who are already incorporating environmental topics into their courses.”

“This whole process has been developing over two-decades. The Mellon grant was a part of this planning for the last few years, but people have been talking about environmental programs at DePauw since I arrived,” Benedix says. “We’ve never had all the pieces to make it take off, and now we do.

“We already have a really good environmental program – environmental geosciences,” he says. “So, for people who are science-oriented, interested in focusing on the geological aspects of environmental issues, and want to get some good technical skills, including lab work and field trips, we have that major.”

D2X_9919.JPG“This isn’t a question of getting rid of what we have, but it’s how we meet the needs of more students in more disciplines and in interdisciplinary ways,” Villinski says.

“We have a core group of faculty members from across campus in geology, physics, biology, English, philosophy and economics who are exploring models that we might use for creating the majors. So it will be a joint collective effort,” Villinski says. “However, there are going to be opportunities for more people to get involved down the road.

“We’re approaching that critical mass where we can really sustain environmental curricular programs and allow them to diversify. We can offer more support and help for students who want to have environmental careers and internships, and take advantage of everything else that DePauw has to offer – but with an environmental slant,” Villinski says.

“I think it’s an exciting time because Jim and I are an interdisciplinary team – economics and biology. We’re hoping to create interdisciplinary programs because environmental problems are inherently interdisciplinary.”

Read more in a previous story here.

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