I’ve been asked that question so many times over the past four years: what do you think?
Yesterday I met with about 15 other junior and senior environmental studies majors to work with a few of the administrators in charge of developing the curriculum in order to figure out how best to serve the academic needs of students interested in our field. Environmental studies is an interdisciplinary course of study at Midd, one in which all students take a core set of classes related to the environment before focusing on one particular subject area, like conservation biology or nonfiction writing, in greater depth. This approach provides students with a strong basis in the environmental field, but it’s also quite challenging because the program is, by design, so broad. A survey from last year’s graduating seniors in environmental studies revealed that students had hoped to have more opportunities to develop leadership skills, and yesterday’s discussion focused on how best to do that.
Each of us had taken a course called GIS, Geographic Information Systems, and had found the process of learning how to use Esri’s ArcGIS software suite and using it to solve spatial problems extremely difficult, frustrating, and rewarding beyond belief. The course forced us to dive into the problem solving process, an approach that led us to experiment in different ways before coming to any conclusions. The lab component of the course encouraged both working together as well as courageously branching out on our own, and all of us agreed that the experience, though not by any means easy, had been one of the best parts of the ES curriculum.
Because we all learned so much from GIS, we brainstormed ways to make other classes in the program more similar in their approach to teaching. Several of the core ES classes, including Natural Science in the Environment and Nature’s Meanings, have a strong lecture component as well as time for a lab section or discussion. We agreed that using some of this course time for independent or small group projects would encourage students to find their place in the program and to explore topics of deep interest to them. An administrator recorded our entire conversation and asked us detailed questions about what we would like the program to look like in the future. Our input, as students, was given high value and truly respected, something very common at Middlebury.