An Environmental Science Minor Would be Major

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Illustration by Mable Truong | Managing Editor

Noe Padilla
Staff Writer

When I was first applying to universities, the only school I wanted to go to was UCSB, and it was because of its environmental studies program. At the time, I believed it was the best school for the subject, and even now, it constantly ranks relatively high among universities, based on global rankings.

UCSB was one of the first schools to ever have an environmental studies department, and it’s been a leader within the environmental field ever since. Based on the department’s website, the program has over 7,300 alumni and more than 850 students enrolled. It also states that the department was established 49 years ago as a response to the oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I instead went to community college. While there, I realized I wanted to go into environmental law. When I finally transferred to UCSB with the intent to minor in environmental studies, I, to my surprise, found that the department didn’t offer a minor. Instead, the department tries to create well-rounded stewards who will be able to deal with environmental issues in a broad range of disciplines.

The department is arranged so that students of the major have a core focus in environmental studies, but are also able to obtain a secondary focus from any other field of study. So, if a student wanted to become a lobbyist for environmental issues for example, that student would be able to get a secondary focus in political science to help with this goal.

I find this ideology respectable, but the lack of a minor seems a bit puzzling, especially in the modern era. Environmental issues can’t be solved by the few anymore; they’re issues that can only be solved by an educated population. 

It’s at the point that whole countries would need to take action to try and minimize the problem. Based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 82 percent of greenhouse gases are caused by carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA states that “human activities are altering the carbon cycle,” which are primarily caused by “transportation” and “electricity,” which still heavily relies on fossil fuels to create energy. This reliance on fossil fuel can only be solved if the citizens of a country actively altered their perception on the issue.

I’ve talked to other students about this issue, and to my surprise, many held a similar opinion on the matter. One student was Jazmin Medina, a third year sociology major. In an interview with TBL, Medina stated that when she transferred to UCSB from her community college, she was hoping that the school would offer a minor in the subject.

“I want to get more informed about environmental issues,” said Medina. “It’s currently one of the biggest issues of our generation … If the school offered a minor, I would do it immediately,” Medina went on to say.

Although this ideology of the department is respectable, perhaps in the modern era, the department needs to broaden its goal beyond creating “environmental stewards.” If the department created a minor, it would allow for students of other majors to pick up environmental studies as their secondary focus. Although it’s not the same plan, it holds the same goal: to create environmental leaders.

Jeff Kuyper is an alumnus from UCSB who majored in environmental studies. He was one of the original founders of the Los Padres ForestWatch non-profit organization. The organization’s goal is to restore and protect the forest condition of the Los Padres National Forest. He’s an example of how UCSB can create great leaders who will champion environmental issues.

Other good examples of these kinds of leader can be found in the organization. Graciela Cabello is the director of youth and community engagement for the organization. Unlike Kuyper, Cabello majored in business administration while in college, but she still has a passion for protecting our public lands. She’s also an example of individuals who study other subjects yet still have a passion for solving these environmental issues.

Perhaps now is the time that UCSB help creates leaders in other disciplines who are environmentally informed.

If there’s demand from students and students who desire to become stewards, UCSB has a duty to its students to offer a minor.

If the department were to create a minor, they could model it in a similar manner to UCLA’s environmental systems and society minor. UCLA has a minimum requirement of eight lower division units, and a minimum of 20 upper-division units in order to receive the minor. This is one of UCLA’s seven minors, the others being atmospheric and oceanic sciences; environmental engineering; earth and environmental science; conservation biology; environmental health; and geography/environmental studies.

If UCSB were to create a minor for environmental studies, it would hold to the same philosophy as the major, this idea of creating great leaders. So perhaps what UCSB could do is hold the same standard for the lower-division units, but once students started working on their upper-division units that’s when the focus could come into play. There could be different focuses within the minor; one could focus on public policy and the others focusing on a specific science within the field.

Furthermore, introducing a minor for environmental studies would also be a great way to celebrate the department’s 50 year anniversary.

If the younger generation has a desire to resolve the issue, then the people who can empower the younger generation ought to support that desire. As the department states, “responsible stewardship of our environment will require leaders that understand and respect human values and goals, and the relationship between natural and human communities.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Or you could just double in ES, like a bunch of us did. With summer school and 2 majors, I even graduated a quarter early. You can do it, too!

  2. I think everyone within the Environmental Studies Program would love to grant every UCSB student the opportunity to become more environmentally aware by taking some of our Environmental Studies courses.

    Environmental Studies currently offers three very large lower-division introductory courses in Environmental Studies and Sciences (ENVS 1, 2, 3) that serve as GE courses and enroll over 1,900 UCSB students each academic year. Plus, a number of our upper-division courses are cross-listed with other departments across campus so students can access some of our upper-division courses through their home departments.

    However, as is often the case at large institutions of higher learning, limited resources dictate the number of faculty a department can hire and courses offered. The Environmental Studies (ES) Program has grown to become the 8th largest department on campus with over 1,100 declared majors and will be graduating our biggest class in our 49-year history this spring (~340 students). Yet our current student to faculty ratio of 43.64 students to 1 faculty is one of the highest on campus (UCSB avg. is 20.69 to 1). If student interest in minoring in Environmental Studies is as high as the author (and we) think it is, the implementation of a minor in ES would add hundreds of additional students trying to take our courses. Without hiring more faculty and adding dozens of new courses our student to faculty ratios and class sizes would explode to unsustainable levels.

    The bottom line is, Environmental Studies does not currently have the teaching resources to offer enough courses to support a minor at this time. Ideally, in the coming years, we can secure enough funding to hire more faculty and instructors to accommodate both our growing number of ES majors as well as those enrolled in a new ES minor.

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