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Supporting and Strengthening Environmental Studies Curricula at ACM Colleges

Students who take Environmental Studies courses engage in interdisciplinary, place-based, and experiential learning, all high impact educational practices that are strengths of ACM institutions. As environmental concerns from the local to global levels are increasingly salient in students’ lives, interest in studying environmental issues is growing on ACM campuses but can be underserved in curricular offerings. Environmental Studies programs themselves are often pieced together, based on the availability of faculty in tenure lines serving other departments.

This FaCE grant will facilitate a deep exploration of the challenges these programs face, particularly in the context of high student demand and limited faculty availability. Given the current financial landscape, what can Environmental Studies programs do to better serve students? How can Environmental Studies programs not only provide an academic major/minor but also leverage where the institutions are located to create connections to place and engage students in their new communities? Rather than tackling these questions in isolation, we propose a FaCE grant to bring together faculty from across the ACM to develop best practices for Environmental Studies programs, as well as to brainstorm potential collaborations across campuses that will provide additional opportunities for students interested in Environmental Studies.


The project is intended to bring faculty together to address the challenge of meeting growing student interest in the field of Environmental Studies despite varying and oftentimes limited institutional funding devoted directly to Environmental Studies programs. How can faculty whose tenure lines are linked to more traditional departments create more robust programs to serve this interdisciplinary major? How can Environmental Studies curricula contribute to the institutions’ growth of experiential, civically engaged, and place-based learning opportunities? How can Environmental Studies attract students who are drawn to studying environmental issues but concerned about the “hireability” of their major? This workshop invites participants to consider what role Environmental Studies programs play in the institutions of which they are a part. At a small liberal arts college, what is the purpose of the major? To what extent do Environmental Studies faculty and students truly engage in interdisciplinary work? And how can programs best accomplish their goals with limited staffing and resources?

The project’s goal is to invigorate Environmental Studies programs by developing greater collaboration and communication across ACM Environmental Studies programs. We envision this project resulting in two specific outcomes:

  1. A common set of best practices for Environmental Studies programs fostered through a series of discussions of common opportunities, challenges, and limitations, and
  2. A network of ACM Environmental Studies programs and affiliated faculty.


This project will be directed by a core leadership team (leadership core) representing faculty engaged in Environmental Studies across academic divisions and institutions in the ACM. Faculty in Environmental Studies at Cornell, Coe, Ripon, and Lawrence have already expressed interest in this FaCE initiative, and we will continue to reach out to Environmental Studies faculty at additional ACM schools. The leadership core will meet for 1-2 days in the spring of 2020 to outline the goals of the project and to prepare for a larger workshop in the Boundary Waters to be held in summer 2020. The leadership core will develop the schedule and agenda as well as identify and invite participants to the Boundary Waters workshop. This larger workshop will provide a venue for discussions about Environmental Studies needs across disciplines, programs, and institutions. Participants will develop a preliminary plan of action for their program, return to their campus and discuss it with their home program members. A final meeting will be held to bring together the core leadership team to develop workshop outputs, including a report to ACM institutions, white paper or journal article, and a conference paper for a national Environmental Studies conference.

Dissemination Strategies

The project intends to share project outcomes through the resulting ACM Environmental Studies network and through the ACM webpages. We plan to produce a few written products to disseminate what we learned, including: 1) a directory of faculty involved in Environmental Studies programs across the ACM with brief biographies for each faculty member (e.g. research interests and environmental courses taught) for enhanced networking, 2) a report of success stories, best practices, and recommendations gathered at our workshop, along with common challenges experienced across environmental studies programs and methods for resolving these, and 3) a white paper or journal article using environmental studies programs in small liberal arts colleges as a case study.

The grant will be most effective if it can help us create a long-term, flexible network that can connect ACM faculty with teaching and research interests in Environmental Studies for a variety of future endeavors. In our initial discussions, we have identified potential areas of collaboration that include learning about Environmental Studies faculty’s areas of expertise across the ACM in order to facilitate guest lecture opportunities and experiential learning opportunities (field trips, internships, etc) that we might collaborate on. The core leadership team will present its findings on common challenges across environmental studies programs at small liberal arts colleges, methods for resolving these challenges, and recommended best practices at a national conference such as the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences. This conference presentation will be the basis for the group’s white paper.

Resources & Materials

The specific activities to be funded include:

  • An initial convening of the core leadership team in Chicago
  • A workshop in the Boundary Waters for 20 ACM Environmental Studies faculty
  • A post-workshop meeting of the core leadership team in Chicago
  • A post-workshop meeting of Environmental Studies faculty on each participating campus
  • Honoraria for core leadership faculty

Outcomes and Significance

Best practices: At the summer 2020 Boundary Waters workshop, participants will meet to discuss best practices for managing complex interdisciplinary programs with limited resources. Faculty will share information, for example, about successful experiential learning projects on their campuses, and discuss how their programs integrate with sustainability on campus. The Boundary Waters meeting will also provide an opportunity for participants to identify common challenges within Environmental Studies programs of the ACM and create a venue for brainstorming how faculty can work together to mitigate those challenges. The result will be a prioritized list of goals for Environmental Studies programs in the ACM and a road map to addressing common challenges. The core leadership team will then write a report to disseminate to ACM institutions.

Network: A dynamic Environmental Studies network will allow us to create a pool of faculty across the ACM with particular expertise (that another college might not have) who could trade in-person or virtual class visits or lectures, for instance. Each program would benefit from a richer curriculum without trying to add faculty lines or other hires. These connections would allow the network to continue to grow and strengthen, evolving to meet the needs of each institution in future years. In this way, the FaCE grant is the catalyst for sustained connections across campuses and the exchange of ideas, not merely a one-time event to stimulate immediate plans that might be short-lived.

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