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ESPP Begins To Carve Its Niche

News Feature

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When the Faculty voted three years ago to approve a new concentration in Environmental Science and Public Policy (ESPP), it didn't expect the concentration to be as popular as it has become.

While organizers of the concentration said they expected about 20 to 25 students, 47 students enrolled in the concentration its first year. That number jumped to 84 in 1994 and 91 in 1995.

This year, the number rose by about 30 percent, to 120 concentrators, and students, faculty and alums praise the concentration for its interdisciplinary nature and the chance it offers to develop a sub-field of expertise.

The concentration has enormous breadth, encompassing coursework in biology, chemistry, earth and planetary science (EPS), government, economics and mathematics.

ESPP concentrators generally say they appreciate the broad base of knowledge of the environment and policy-making they receive from the curriculum.

A few argue, however, that the concentration falls short because its courses are too disparate.

They also say that while it forces students to develop innovative solutions to environmental problems, their answers are not feasible and their exercises are often futile.

Uniting Interests

Despite the Faculty's near-unanimous vote in approving ESPP, critics warned that the concentration was unnecessary because students could study EPS and take electives in social science areas.

But those concentrating in ESPP say those criticisms are not valid, and cite their foundation in the politics of environmental policymaking as opposed to EPS's emphasis on the science of the earth.

As the first class of seniors who originally declared ESPP as a concentration approaches graduation, many say ESPP allowed them to unite their interests better than any of the older concentrations would have.

And they add that they are happy with the concentration overall, citing the hands-on approach of the junior tutorial and the opportunity to develop relationships with respected professors as its major strengths.

"[ESPP's] best successes are the fact that it seems that the faculty really cares about the students and it's a small enough group that you get specialized attention," says James S. Castle'97.

Rudd W. Coffey '97 says he went on a spring-break field trip to Florida last year with the members of his junior tutorial and two professors who insisted that the class call them by their first names.

"ESPP allows you a lot of freedom to design your own program and take courses in different programs and have it count," he says.

James J. McCarthy, chair and head tutor of ESPP, agrees with Coffey. One of the initial proponents of the concentration, he says he believes it is needed and appreciated by undergraduates.

"There were a number of students who were particularly interested in this interface [between] environmental and policy issues," he says.

He says that lectures on environmental issues have been given to packed Science Center audiences.

"It's a strong statement that the interest of young people in the environment is much greater than we thought," he says. "It's impossible to ignore us now."

Diverse Group of Concentrators

Diversity is important in ESPP, since environmentalism has often been critiqued as being divided by class and race.

"It's as diversified as the College," says Michael B. McElroy, Rotch professor of atmospheric science. "We are pleased that we have a larger fraction of women concentrators than...the other sciences. All minorities are represented."

Coffey agrees that ESPP concentrators are a diverse group, saying they consist of everything from "premeds to gov guys to granolas."

"[ESPP] is going to produce the kind of people who will be the leaders in environmental affairs after they graduate," says McElroy, who is chair of the University Committee on the Environment and a member of the ESPP degree committee. "[They will have] a deep understanding of serious environmental challenges and know where to put their time and effort."

Students who are concentrating in ESPP have begun assuming those leadership roles by undertaking policy-oriented senior theses.

One student who is concentrating in ESPP says she is doing the international policy track and would like to work in government or international policy and focus on issues relating to the environment of South America.

Alexis M. Maybank '97 says she took a semester off to study international policy in Argentina and is doing her senior thesis on the construction of a 2,000-mile-long waterway project in South America.

And Castle is working on a thesis about the economics of a natural disaster. He says he is doing four case studies on earthquakes and hurricanes.

"A good fraction of the senior theses are good and interesting and a few of them are truly excellent, the sorts of things I would be delighted to be seeing out of the professional schools here and the magazine I edit," says William C. Clark, Harman professor of international science, public policy and human development.

"It's excellent not just in the quality of the research and writing but in the fact that the students are grappling productively with this very difficult topic of the interface between knowledge and action in the environmental realm," says Clark, who is a member of the ESPP board of tutors and vice-chair of the University Committee on the Environment.

Interdisciplinary Nature

Many concentrators say ESPP's requirements are what make it such a unique concentration.

Concentrators must take two half-courses in biology, two in mathematics or statistics, one or two half-courses in general chemistry, one half-courses in organic chemistry, two half-courses in earth and planetary sciences, two more in economics, ESPP 77, Government 1590, the junior seminar and the sophomore tutorial.

According to McElroy, ESPP concentrators develop a foundation in all the elements of sensible environmental policy-making.

The challenge, he says, is to ensure that the students in the concentration not only have a broad background but that they also develop real expertise in a specific area, such as science, economics or government.

The concentration is limited, he says, because it cannot require students to take more than 16 half-courses in the regular program.

"We're always straining against that rule. We're trying to meet potential concentrators as early as possible," McElroy says.

Graduates of the ESPP concentration say they appreciate the broad base of knowledge of the environment and policy-making they received from the curriculum.

Forrest S. Briscoe '95 does environmental policy consulting at a firm in the Cambridge area. He is currently working on a project to reduce pesticide use in developing countries.

"It requires understanding of the basic science of pesticides, ecology of farms, the policy mechanisms of regulation and international political economy," he says.

He says his field is genuinely interdisciplinary and requires the background he gained in ESPP.

He says he plans to go to graduate school next year to earn his Ph.D. He says he will study corporate environmental strategy and the interaction between businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations.

David A. Miller '95 agrees that the interdisciplinary requirements of the concentration were successful in integrating the different concepts involved in environmental problem solving.

He also works in a field related to ESPP, doing environmental research regarding policy and business decision-making for Tellus Institute, a non-profit organization.

Too Disjointed and Idealistic

Some students and faculty involved with ESPP say there are still improvements to be made in the concentration. And there are some students who flatly criticize the program.

McCarthy says he would like to see more options in government and policy courses for concentrators. Since the concentration holds no faculty positions of its own, it draws relevant classes from other departments.

"We are keenly interested in involving more faculty," he says.

In addition, he says concentrators would benefit from having more graduate students in environmental studies and public policy fields serve as house tutors.

Some students say a problem with ESPP is that the courses in different departments are too disparate.

They also say it is possible to graduate from the concentration with a broad base of knowledge but no expertise in a specific sub-topic, although they acknowledge that advisers do recommend that they take their concentration electives in one area.

The harshest criticism of ESPP comes from several sophomores taking the required sophomore lecture course and tutorial.

They say they believe the tutorial forces students to design impractical solutions to environmental problems before they have enough knowledge.

In addition, they say the graduate students who are in the lecture class dominate the discussion.

One of the assignments for the class was to "write a sustainable development plan for your home community," according to one of the sophomores, who asked not to be identified.

"You feel like you don't have enough information for it," the student says. "The assignments are pointless because you won't actually have found a proper sustainable development plan because there is no such thing."

The student says she and a friend in the concentration are both considering switching because they are unhappy

But those concentrating in ESPP say those criticisms are not valid, and cite their foundation in the politics of environmental policymaking as opposed to EPS's emphasis on the science of the earth.

As the first class of seniors who originally declared ESPP as a concentration approaches graduation, many say ESPP allowed them to unite their interests better than any of the older concentrations would have.

And they add that they are happy with the concentration overall, citing the hands-on approach of the junior tutorial and the opportunity to develop relationships with respected professors as its major strengths.

"[ESPP's] best successes are the fact that it seems that the faculty really cares about the students and it's a small enough group that you get specialized attention," says James S. Castle'97.

Rudd W. Coffey '97 says he went on a spring-break field trip to Florida last year with the members of his junior tutorial and two professors who insisted that the class call them by their first names.

"ESPP allows you a lot of freedom to design your own program and take courses in different programs and have it count," he says.

James J. McCarthy, chair and head tutor of ESPP, agrees with Coffey. One of the initial proponents of the concentration, he says he believes it is needed and appreciated by undergraduates.

"There were a number of students who were particularly interested in this interface [between] environmental and policy issues," he says.

He says that lectures on environmental issues have been given to packed Science Center audiences.

"It's a strong statement that the interest of young people in the environment is much greater than we thought," he says. "It's impossible to ignore us now."

Diverse Group of Concentrators

Diversity is important in ESPP, since environmentalism has often been critiqued as being divided by class and race.

"It's as diversified as the College," says Michael B. McElroy, Rotch professor of atmospheric science. "We are pleased that we have a larger fraction of women concentrators than...the other sciences. All minorities are represented."

Coffey agrees that ESPP concentrators are a diverse group, saying they consist of everything from "premeds to gov guys to granolas."

"[ESPP] is going to produce the kind of people who will be the leaders in environmental affairs after they graduate," says McElroy, who is chair of the University Committee on the Environment and a member of the ESPP degree committee. "[They will have] a deep understanding of serious environmental challenges and know where to put their time and effort."

Students who are concentrating in ESPP have begun assuming those leadership roles by undertaking policy-oriented senior theses.

One student who is concentrating in ESPP says she is doing the international policy track and would like to work in government or international policy and focus on issues relating to the environment of South America.

Alexis M. Maybank '97 says she took a semester off to study international policy in Argentina and is doing her senior thesis on the construction of a 2,000-mile-long waterway project in South America.

And Castle is working on a thesis about the economics of a natural disaster. He says he is doing four case studies on earthquakes and hurricanes.

"A good fraction of the senior theses are good and interesting and a few of them are truly excellent, the sorts of things I would be delighted to be seeing out of the professional schools here and the magazine I edit," says William C. Clark, Harman professor of international science, public policy and human development.

"It's excellent not just in the quality of the research and writing but in the fact that the students are grappling productively with this very difficult topic of the interface between knowledge and action in the environmental realm," says Clark, who is a member of the ESPP board of tutors and vice-chair of the University Committee on the Environment.

Interdisciplinary Nature

Many concentrators say ESPP's requirements are what make it such a unique concentration.

Concentrators must take two half-courses in biology, two in mathematics or statistics, one or two half-courses in general chemistry, one half-courses in organic chemistry, two half-courses in earth and planetary sciences, two more in economics, ESPP 77, Government 1590, the junior seminar and the sophomore tutorial.

According to McElroy, ESPP concentrators develop a foundation in all the elements of sensible environmental policy-making.

The challenge, he says, is to ensure that the students in the concentration not only have a broad background but that they also develop real expertise in a specific area, such as science, economics or government.

The concentration is limited, he says, because it cannot require students to take more than 16 half-courses in the regular program.

"We're always straining against that rule. We're trying to meet potential concentrators as early as possible," McElroy says.

Graduates of the ESPP concentration say they appreciate the broad base of knowledge of the environment and policy-making they received from the curriculum.

Forrest S. Briscoe '95 does environmental policy consulting at a firm in the Cambridge area. He is currently working on a project to reduce pesticide use in developing countries.

"It requires understanding of the basic science of pesticides, ecology of farms, the policy mechanisms of regulation and international political economy," he says.

He says his field is genuinely interdisciplinary and requires the background he gained in ESPP.

He says he plans to go to graduate school next year to earn his Ph.D. He says he will study corporate environmental strategy and the interaction between businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations.

David A. Miller '95 agrees that the interdisciplinary requirements of the concentration were successful in integrating the different concepts involved in environmental problem solving.

He also works in a field related to ESPP, doing environmental research regarding policy and business decision-making for Tellus Institute, a non-profit organization.

Too Disjointed and Idealistic

Some students and faculty involved with ESPP say there are still improvements to be made in the concentration. And there are some students who flatly criticize the program.

McCarthy says he would like to see more options in government and policy courses for concentrators. Since the concentration holds no faculty positions of its own, it draws relevant classes from other departments.

"We are keenly interested in involving more faculty," he says.

In addition, he says concentrators would benefit from having more graduate students in environmental studies and public policy fields serve as house tutors.

Some students say a problem with ESPP is that the courses in different departments are too disparate.

They also say it is possible to graduate from the concentration with a broad base of knowledge but no expertise in a specific sub-topic, although they acknowledge that advisers do recommend that they take their concentration electives in one area.

The harshest criticism of ESPP comes from several sophomores taking the required sophomore lecture course and tutorial.

They say they believe the tutorial forces students to design impractical solutions to environmental problems before they have enough knowledge.

In addition, they say the graduate students who are in the lecture class dominate the discussion.

One of the assignments for the class was to "write a sustainable development plan for your home community," according to one of the sophomores, who asked not to be identified.

"You feel like you don't have enough information for it," the student says. "The assignments are pointless because you won't actually have found a proper sustainable development plan because there is no such thing."

The student says she and a friend in the concentration are both considering switching because they are unhappy

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