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A Learning Environment

By Megan Flynn '17 & Greg Skoog '89

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March 14, 2017

As seen in the CSB/SJU Spring 2017 Magazine

The classroom environment at CSB/SJU is great—but that’s not really the environment the environmental studies (ES) department at CSB/SJU cares to study. It’s a big world, and our students are out connecting with it.

MontanaIn May 2016, that meant canoeing 150 miles of the Missouri River, tracing the route Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery took in 1804. In November, it meant engaging and networking with Nobel laureates and elected officials from around the world at the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Morocco. On a daily basis, it means eschewing the classroom in favor of field work in the lakes and forests of the Saint John’s Abbey Arboretum.

“Most liberal arts colleges don’t have (ES) departments, they just have programs,” explains department chair Derek Larson. “We have a rigorous, research-based core curriculum (for ES majors) that starts with first-years and ends with their senior thesis research seminar. That’s a luxury that you would only typically have at a really big school.”

With five full-time faculty and instant access to the great outdoors, it’s no wonder the ES department at CSB/SJU has grown into one of the nation’s largest among liberal arts schools.

That size opens up possibilities for innovative and interesting courses and programs.

Last year’s canoe expedition to Montana was a test of what could become an ongoing field program says Larson, whose specialty is environmental history. “We hope to build a program around the history and environment and management of this Wild & Scenic River region – and potentially rotate between five or six other sites that we’ve looked at across the Western United States.

ClassThe trip to Morocco focused more on environmental policy. And CSB/SJU is positioned with a seat at that table. Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s are two of around 1,400 non-governmental organizations with formal observer status through the UNFCCC. “Less than 200 of those are academic institutions,” says Larson.

This elite status gives CSB/SJU students access to every UNFCCC meeting around the world. “Two years ago, 18 of our students – of all majors –went to the conference in Paris. Last year 19 went to Morocco. Next year we’ll be sending a cohort to Bonn, Germany,” says Larson. “They have the credentials to sit in on discussions and presentations that the general public can’t.”

“We have a rigorous, research-based core curriculum (for ES majors) that starts with first-years and ends with their senior thesis research seminar. That’s a luxury that you would only typically have at a really big school” Derek Larson, Environmental Studies department chair.

Environmental studies is one of the fastest growing and most innovative disciplines in the liberal arts curriculum at CSB/SJU. But it’s not the only one. There’s a whole spectrum of things to learn. And in the liberal arts, students can explore any of them.

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