Boston College’s environmental studies program has introduced four new concentrations this year: environmental health, environmental justice and policy, environmental entrepreneurship, and biodiversity conservation.
The concentrations were created in an effort to respond to popular student interests and expand academic flexibility within the program, according to the program’s director, professor Tara Pisani Gareau.
Since the environmental studies major was introduced in 2014, students have been able to pick from either two “themes” or four “disciplines” to focus on. The two thematic concentrations were food and water sustainability, and climate change and societal adaptation—while the four disciplinary ones were sociology, history, political science, and economics.
“They didn’t represent all of the different topics that people are interested in,” Gareau said. “So sometimes we were losing students who are interested maybe in other areas.”
Compared to the disciplines, the themes have tended to be more popular with students because they are more interdisciplinary in nature and focus more on the issues that people are really concerned about, Gareau said.
“Students see themselves, for example, working in food policy perhaps in the future, or being part of climate change solutions,” Gareau said.
Because of where students’ interest had typically been, when deciding which areas it would make the most sense to offer environmental studies students, the program decided to move in the direction of thematic concentrations.
A subcommittee of the environmental studies steering committee devised the new concentrations, Gareau said. The subcommittee then had them reviewed by the curriculum review board of the Education Policy Committee, as it wanted to make sure it got feedback before it launched them.
The four new concentrations are, in a way, an environmental studies 2.0, Gareau explained.
The environmental health concentration stemmed from a group of students who were independently developing the concentration themselves, Gareau said. The environmental studies program then worked with the students to create an official concentration within the program that would focus on the interactions between environmental health and human health, Gareau said.
Gareau said that the program created the environmental entrepreneurship concentration because it had seen a strong interest from BC students in the business aspects of sustainability. Classes like Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Carroll School of Management and Is All Commerce Capitalism? in the history department, for example, didn’t necessarily have a place in the program before it changed the concentrations.
“We called it environmental entrepreneurship because we think entrepreneurship is a really important component of sustainability and innovation,” Gareau said.
Gareau said that, with the new concentrations, the program wanted to focus on moving toward a world of environmental and social justice, with a special focus on the interdisciplinary nature of themes such as Environmental Justice and Policy.
“The Jesuit mission and the mission of Boston College is to use one’s knowledge and intellectual development, whole person development, spiritual development, to do good on the planet,” Gareau said.
Direct action to move toward a sustainable future is action for the common good, Gareau said. She explained that the biodiversity conservation concentration in particular focuses on a very Jesuit, Catholic goal: the preservation of creation.
“Environmental justice is social justice,” Gareau said. “We’re talking about looking at parts of society that are highly influenced or disproportionately influenced by environmental stresses and pollution. So our goals are very similar: trying to do the important work in the world to move us towards greater social justice, greater environmental health, and greater economic viability.”
So far, the response from students about the new concentrations has been really positive, Gareau said.
“It’s becoming an increasingly relevant area of study, and the problems that we face won’t be solved by one thing in particular,” Gareau said. “There’s no silver bullet necessarily. It’s going to take people working in various sectors together to solve some of our big problems.”
Featured Image by Madison Sarka/Heights Staff