5.2 The Missing Link: Where is Earth Systems Science in the Environmental Studies Curriculum?

Tuesday, 12 January 2016: 1:45 PM
Room 353 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Jessica M. Kleiss, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR; and K. P. O'Neill

Earth systems science research is interdisciplinary across biology, geology, physics, and chemistry; environmental studies commonly identifies itself at the nexus of natural science, social science, and the humanities. Scholars in all of these fields advocate for interdisciplinary research and education with a systems perspective, yet a simple search for current college-level courses related to Earth Systems Science (ESS) yields primarily introductory courses, often aimed at general education and non-geoscience majors. There appears to be a dearth of environmental studies and upper-level courses targeting ESS. Paradoxically, NSF funding opportunities have witnessed an increased occurrence of calls for proposals engaging interdisciplinary research in earth and environmental science. Many small colleges and universities have programs in Environmental Studies, Environmental Science, or Sustainability, that include geoscience faculty. Yet where is the interdisciplinary ESS in the environmental studies curricula? How can we design interdisciplinary courses and interdisciplinary programs to foster literacy in earth systems and prepare graduates for environmentally-related careers? This work addresses the difficult question of course and programmatic curricular design at the undergraduate level targeted at interdisciplinary environmental scholarship. The discussion follows three threads: 1) What theoretical underpinnings unite interdisciplinary scholarship in both ESS and environmental studies? 2) What specific skills and methods might enable a student to pursue interdisciplinary scholarship in the earth and environmental sciences? 3) What is the "system" in Earth Systems Science and how does it differ from the “systems thinking” often promoted in Environmental Studies curricula? The educational design, challenges, and outcomes will be presented in the context of motivations and opportunities for a greater role of earth systems science within undergraduate Environmental Studies curricula.
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