Home Environmental education Vanderbilt College of Arts and Science Now Offers a New Major in Climate and Environmental Studies

Vanderbilt College of Arts and Science Now Offers a New Major in Climate and Environmental Studies


Vanderbilt College of Arts and Science has launched a new major in Climate Studies. The major integrates natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities to give students a global perspective on climate change, its challenges, and possible solutions. Students can declare the major now and choose from an exciting list of new courses in the fall 2022 semester. This is an innovative approach to studying climate, as existing climate majors at major U.S. universities focus usually about climate science.

From its conception, the major was built with a trans-institutional approach. David J. Hessprofessor of sociology, James Thornton Fant Chair in Sustainability Studies and director of the new Climate and Environmental Studies Program; Jonathan Gilliganlecturer in Earth and environmental sciences and in civil and environmental engineering and associate research director at the University Vanderbilt Climate Change Research Network; and Betsey A.Robinsonassociate professor of art and architectural history, all were co-chairs of the faculty committee that developed the major.

David J. Hess

“We have built this major at a time when the highest levels of scholarship and research are increasingly recognizing that climate change is fundamentally an interdisciplinary problem that requires research and knowledge synthesis across many disciplines,” said said Hess. “Part of the motivation for creating this major is to address the global need to train future global leaders in interdisciplinary approaches to climate change and other major challenges facing society.”

Jonathan M. Gilligan

Climate studies students will gain a solid foundation through an introduction to the field taught by an interdisciplinary team, a course focused on climate science, and at least one course on climate and environmental studies in the social sciences, natural sciences, and science. social science. All students will take two courses in methods and practices, such as statistics, GIS, 3D/virtual reality imaging, communications, and technical writing. At first, most courses will be offered by the College of Arts and Science, School of Engineering, and Peabody College. Elective courses and immersion opportunities will allow students to develop their mastery in a discipline or gain additional research or practical experience. In future years, the major is expected to be expanded with course offerings at other colleges and the addition of a thesis and internship component. There are also many opportunities for students to engage in a “living lab” in Nashville and the surrounding area. “The Climate Studies major will provide highly visible connection points to make it easier for students and faculty to connect with communities and government agencies to work together on these important issues,” Hess said.

Betsey Robinson

“This major is both powerful and unique because it uses a problem-based multifaceted approach,” said John Geer, Ginny and Conner Searcy Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Climate change is perhaps the most pressing issue of our time. Part of the college’s mission is to solve critical problems and explore effective solutions to solve them. I’m thrilled that we’re launching this new major in such a creative, cross-disciplinary way – the Vanderbilt way.

A number of Vanderbilt departments already contribute to the environmental program on campus, including the major in Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology; an environmental sciences branch within the biological sciences; a major in environmental sociology; a minor in environmental and sustainability studies; a set of courses in environmental anthropology; and a regular rotation of classes in environmental humanities. There is also an environmental public policy stream within the public policy program, an environmental engineering discipline within civil engineering, and related courses at Peabody.

The new major in Climate Studies originated from the formation of the College of Arts and Sciences Grand Challenge Initiativewhich started in 2020 and includes a Climate and Society project. “Students and faculty have shown great interest in creating an interdisciplinary major that cuts across all divisions of A&S, investigates climate change from diverse perspectives, and encourages conversations and teamwork across disciplines” , said Gilligan.

Geer asked interested professors to develop a proposal for the new major. Led by Hess, Gilligan, and Robinson, and including A&S colleagues from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, as well as professors from Peabody and engineering, the group fleshed out the major’s structure and requirements. Joe Bandydeputy director of teaching center and lecturer in sociologyled the group in developing objectives for the program in four areas: knowledge, skills, attitudes, and ethics and values.

“There is no other program in the country that approaches climate in this way,” Robinson said. “A lot of them touch on the sciences, but we also emphasize the value of the humanities. We need to look at history, culture, religion and ethics, art and design and many other areas to truly understand the impact we have had and are having on our planet. We must also be able to predict where we are going. It is impossible to do this without the human sciences.

The program is designed to be flexible and can be combined with any other major. A double major with natural or social sciences could prepare students for graduate studies in climate science, environmental policy and justice, and many other fields. The major should appeal to students interested in law, business, public health, medicine, design, and urban studies. It will enable graduates to pursue nearly endless opportunities in entrepreneurship and green finance, consulting, human services, energy and transport, food and commodities, waste and recycling, heritage conservation and management, education, technical writing and journalism. In short, it is a major for the 21st century.

“We look forward to welcoming students from all backgrounds and interests to learn more about climate and society – past, present and future,” Robinson said. “Wherever their career takes them, students of climate studies will understand climate change and gain the knowledge and skills to become thoughtful and responsible members and leaders of society in the future.”

In addition to Gilligan, Hess, and Robinson, the Climate and Environmental Studies Program Faculty Steering Committee includes faculty members Marc Abkowitz, Brooke Ackerley, Joe Bandy, Beth Conklin, Larisa DeSantis, Therese Goddu, Patrick Greiner, Amanda Small, yolande mcdonald, Ole Molvig, Dan Morgan, Jessica Oster, Paul Stob, Anand Taneja, Lori Troxel and Matthew Zaragoza-Watkins.

Watch a short video available here.