Environmental Major Celebrates Silver Anniversary

September 28, 2003

Chelsea Newton, <i>Hullabaloo</i> contributing writer

This fall marks the 25th anniversary of the Environmental studies coordinate major, one of the first interdisciplinary programs at Tulane. Currently one of four coordinate majors offered at Tulane, along with Women's studies, African Diaspora and Latin American studies, the Environmental studies coordinate is a self-designed major allowing students to fulfill most of their graduation requirements in curricula from other departments.

The program was started and maintained by student initiative, beginning in 1979. The founders' plan was to create the Office of Environmental Affairs, currently run by Liz Davey, whose job it is to secure grants for research in which students can participate. Though the program had already been offered for 14 years, it was not until 1992, when the Center for Bio-Environmental Research was established in New Orleans, that a federal subsidy was given to Tulane and Xavier Universities.

Though most of the money was put toward research on the water in the rivers and bayous of Louisiana, some was allotted for the development of University courses. The government money allowed Tulane faculty members Dr. Joan Bennett, professor of cell biology, and Dr. Michael Zimmerman, professor of philosophy, to enhance the program with the addition of new instructors and classes. Bennett stresses the importance of environmental consciousness as a part of every student at Tulane's education, regardless of whether they are Environmental studies majors or not.

"Education occurs not just in classroom, but in daily life, and an awareness of the environment should be a part of every educated person's mental package," Bennett said. The goal of the Environmental studies coordinate program and the Tulane Green Club, is what is referred to as a "greening of the curriculum" at Tulane. "It's a lot easier just not to pollute than to clean up pollution," Bennett said.

As a way of accomplishing this, Tulane's active Green Club sponsors an environmental audit of the school and tries to educate the campus on ways to eliminate waste. A secondary goal for the department is to foster an appreciation for the unique ecology of Louisiana swamps and bayous in Tulane students.

Recent changes to the major include the addition of an Environmental Policy track to accompany the original Environmental Sciences concentration and the creation of an Environmental studies minor. Christine Murphey, the current academic advisor for the Environmental studies coordinate major, attests to the program's growing popularity.

"When I first came to Tulane there were about 20 students majoring in Environmental studies, last year there were over 60, with the average being somewhere between 50 and 60 students these last couple of years," Murphey said. According to Murphey, such increases can be attributed to the exponential increase this decade in problems with the environment, including air pollution, global warming and deforestation. "These students are aware of both their individual impact on the environment and their individual potential to have an impact on policy issues," Murphey said.

Students who graduate with degrees in Environmental studies often go on to careers in environmental law, medicine or environmental biology. Options for students on the Environmental Policy track include careers as lobbyists or in environmental education. Murphey applauds the students she advises for both the courage and idealism she feels they possess.

"Students are brave to choose this major. They come across a lot of information that can be overwhelming, and to work in the field is a whole other step, but the work is very important," Murphey said.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000