Launching the programme in Environmental Studies (ES) at Yale-NUS has been among the most satisfying tasks of my career. It ranks right up there with framing the curriculum, hiring the faculty, and leading the academic program as Academic Dean for the Spring 2007 voyage of Semester at Sea. As a researcher long interested in the design and delivery of interdisciplinary programs in environment (often with a global twist), the opportunity to help build an ES programme from scratch has been a tremendous gift.
This happy outcome was never certain. When the inaugural class matriculated in 2013, then-president of the College Pericles Lewis warned me that 0% (as in ‘nil,’ ‘nothing,’ ‘nada,’ or ‘goose-eggs’) of the entering students listed environmental studies as a possible major.
Gulp. Flash forward four years later. Because of the inspired teaching and provocative research of my ES-faculty colleagues, 10% of that first class selected environmental studies as their major (amazing, given the strength of the many programs from which Yale-NUS students can choose). The ES programme continues to attract between 8 – 10% of all YNC students as majors — and we have our share of students minoring in ES as well.
As I peer down the road I’m guessing that we’ll draw up to 15% of future cohorts into the major, as many new ES courses come online. Already, our courses typically are filled to capacity, and ES students have birthed two organizations that are making a real difference on campus and in Singapore: I’dECO and the Sustainable Solutions Network. More exciting projects are in the mix.
As chair of the programme, I marvel at how students and faculty working together have created such a dynamic experiment in applied, interdisciplinary education. Our ES major combines elements of some of the world’s strongest Environmental Studies programmes with the unique opportunities provided by a liberal arts college in a vibrant Asian city. We strive to be different in ways that build upon the best experiences in undergraduate education.
Our students and faculty work together on environmental topics both local and global, drawing upon the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Coursework and applied experience expose students to a range of environmental issues from the familiar, such as energy choices and climate change, to the less well-studied, like the rise of consumerism and the impacts of changing settlement patterns.
To make all this happen, the academics of the programme revolve around an area of specialisation (AoS) designed by students in consultation with their advisor in the third year of study. The AoS is supplemented by a rigorous one-year research or practitioner project, and is often informed by study abroad and internship experiences.
Students prepare for their AoS by completing introductory and follow-up courses that interrogate the range of approaches to Environmental Studies while developing key concepts and approaches in the field. The College’s Common Curriculum also informs the AoS, as do independent readings and other close work with the Environmental Studies faculty.