Summer Environmental Curriculum Revealed

By Nate Sans

The Middlebury School of the Environment will open its doors to students for the first time this summer. The intensive six-week program promises to give students not only a rigorous interdisciplinary training in environmental studies but also invaluable leadership and entrepreneurial skills necessary to promote social change.

While the program will be inaugurated for the first time this summer, faculty members have been working to develop it for several years. In 1994, President John McCardell identified the study of the environment as one of five peaks of excellence of the college and a 1995 taskforce suggested the creation of a summer school of the environment. The College’s environmental studies program, founded in 1965, is the oldest of such programs in the US.

“For the last eighteen years we have worked to see how such a program could be offered, where it would be offered, what the pros and cons were and what the curriculum might look like,” said Professor of Environmental and Biosphere Studies and the Director of the Middlebury School of the Environment Stephen Trobulak. “It all finally all came together last year and the trustees approved our proposal last May.”

The College has been holding summer courses for a long time. The School of German was established almost a century ago in 1915 and the Bread Loaf School of English has been in session every summer since 1920. By accepting students from around the country, the summer programs expand the College’s educational reach.

“It seemed like a natural fit to develop a Bread Loaf and Language School-like summer program that focused on the environment,” Trombulak said.

Students in the program will take three interdisciplinary courses. All students will enroll in a Sustainability Practicum and a course titled Interdisciplinary Understanding of Place: Lake Champlain. In addition to the two required courses, each student is free to choose a Global Perspectives elective with topics such as international environmental negotiation and conservation planning.

“The goal of the program is to offer students a high quality education that focuses on cutting-edge curricula related to understanding the relationship between the humans and the environment,” Trombulak said.

The curriculum is set up to combine the knowledge base of environmental studies with the practical leadership and entrepreneurial skills necessary to promote social change after the completion of the program.

“We want the curriculum to reflect not just the knowledge base necessary to be effective at addressing environmental issues in the twenty-first century but also the skills base for doing it so the kinds of leadership and communication and project management skills,” Trombulak said.

“The goal isn’t to produce activists … What it is about is giving students the skills they need to succeed professionally in whatever domain they choose to pursue whether it is business, government, education or non-profit organizations.”

The blend of academics and practical skills is an attraction of the program.

“I am hoping to get the opportunity to get to know some folks from other schools who are also interested in environmental studies and about to jump off into the world to try and make it a better place,” wrote Isaac Baker ’15, an environmental studies non-fiction major who has applied to the program, in an email. “I [hope to] explore the MiddCORE-like personal development that the program is said to offer — I don’t fully know what that will look like but I am curious to find out.”

The curriculum also represents a combination of science and the humanities, which the environmental studies program at the College emphasizes during the school year. All environmental studies majors must take a core course titled Nature’s Meanings: American Experiences, which includes readings of authors like Emerson, Thoreau and Muir. Those who major in environmental studies must also take their cognates, or electives, outside of the natural sciences. This emphasis on the humanities stems from the realization that environmental issues have to do with mankind’s relationship with the environment.

The course about Lake Champlain, in particular, embodies the interdisciplinarity nature of the study of the environment.

“The sources of environmental challenges and the solutions inherently have both cultural and ecological roots and constraints it is unavoidably and inarguably true that to be able to chart an environmental future that works for humans and non-humans alike you have to be able to understand both the cultural narrative and the ecological narrative of a place,” said Trombulak.  “It doesn’t make any sense to talk about water pollution control or fisheries management in Lake Champlain if you don’t understand both the human story and the ecological story.”

The priority deadline for School of the Environment applications is Feb. 15 and the program officially begins on June 20.

“It’s going to be an intensive experience in and out of the classroom,” wrote Baker, “I’m looking forward to diving in deep.”