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Get schooled on the environment

U of M to offer more environmental study courses, minor in the spring

By Sheifalika Bhatnagar
On November 10, 2009

Professors at The University of Memphis are teaming up to add more courses in environmental studies to the school catalog next semester, which could lead to the creation of a new minor in the department of interdisciplinary studies.

Although professors are unsure when the environmental studies minor will be offered, they are in the process of unifying courses into a single program.

Professors said the push for more classes is the result of more student interest in environmental issues.

Dawn Wiest, associate professor of sociology, recently received approval for a new environmental sociology class.

"We are all very interested in strengthening an environmental studies minor at The University and are eager to work together to make that happen," Wiest said.

Erica Christensen, president of The U of M chapter of the Environmental Action Club, said the department of interdisciplinary studies already offers an introductory course to environmental studies. The course also fulfills a general education requirement, she said.

"It's not about hippies or anything. It has a lot of ecology, biology, economics and sociology," said Christensen, senior double major in political science and international studies. "There are many different avenues that it explores, and it gives you a good understanding of what the most important current events are right now."

The anthropology department has been offering the class Health, Culture and Environmental Justice, as well as courses about cultural perspectives on the environment and how tourists affect the environment.

Amy H. Moorman, assistant professor with the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, will offer an environmental law course next semester. The course will focus on federal policies as they relate to air and water quality control, hazardous substances and releases, and national environmental policy, she said.

Moorman said studying the environment is "extremely important" and that the level of student interest in the classes is "very high."

Reza Banai, regional and economic development professor, is currently teaching a course on planning sustainable cities and regions.

Banai said he was excited to see that the students in the class usually come from diverse academic backgrounds.

"Given that the course is an elective, the enrollment in the course is evidence of student interest from wide ranging backgrounds on the subject of environmental sustainability," Banai said. "And specifically when considered in the context of planning cities and regions, where the majority of the world population resides."

Science programs such as the biology department are offering courses like ecology and environmental issues that will discuss the impact of global warming on natural ecosystems.

The discipline of environmental studies is spreading to the philosophy department, too.

Bryan Smyth, assistant professor of philosophy, will be discussing how people rationalize the way we treat the natural "non-human" world, in his environmental ethics class, which will also be offered in the spring.

"The importance of this lies in the fact that as urgent environmental questions become increasingly global, genuine solutions will only emerge on the basis of a conceptually sound common ground," Smyth said.

The U of M's department of public health is aiming to provide students with strategies for understanding what effect environmental damages have on a person's health. The courses Principles of Exposure and Risk Assessment and Environmental Health describe how environmental quality promotes health and global sustainability.

Wiest said the field of environmental studies has grown in the last few years "because there has been renewed interest in national and international policy circles around environmental issues such as climate change."

"Students should also know that the job market is changing to reflect interest in environmental sustainability," she wrote in an e-mail. "All kinds of new environment-related jobs are being created."

The pursuit of environmental studies is spreading not only at The U of M but also at other colleges in the area. Rhodes College now offers minors in both environmental studies and environmental sciences. One class, Nature and War, examines how natural resources around the world are often exploited by war.

Freshman urban anthropology major Scout Anglin, said she is taking the Health, Culture and Environmental Justice class this semester.

"In the class, we've discussed several issues relating to race, class and health in relation to environmental racism and justice.

"The University is trying to play catch up with the green movement," Anglin said. "With the new recycling program and biodiesel projects going on, they are off to a great start, but it would be nice if more of a green presence were around. Offering more environmentally-focused classes is a good way to start."

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