Environmental Studies Department Profile

environmental studies

The natural setting that surrounds the city of Walla Walla, provides Whitman College’s Environmental Studies Program with a superb living laboratory in which to study a wide range of issues associated with the interactions between humans and nature. Environmental Studies students at Whitman have ready access to a great number of resources, in addition to the intensively farmed wheatlands, rangelands grazed by cattle, and coniferous forests that make up the predominant economic uses of the land of southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. Some of these resources include the Columbia and Snake Rivers with many large hydroelectric dams (an office of the Bonneville Power Administration is located in Walla Walla); the Hanford site (U.S. Department of Energy), which includes the Washington Public Power Supply System nuclear reactor, the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve, and Pacific Northwest Laboratory (Battelle); the McNary National Wildlife Refuge and other wetlands; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Walla Walla District); Natural Resources Conservation Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture); the U.S. Forest Service, which includes the Umatilla National Forest-Walla Walla Ranger District, the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area; the Malheur Field Station (in Burns, OR.); the Boardman, OR. coal generating plant; the Florida Power and Light wind farm; and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation based in Pendleton, OR.

The Whitman College Environmental Studies Program introduces students – those majoring in Environmental Studies and those wishing to add knowledge of the field to their general education – to a wide variety of perspectives that examine the many connections between humans and nature. In constructing this broad-based perspective, the program combines a broad set of relevant courses in the natural and social sciences and the humanities.

Environmental Studies majors first develop a common core of knowledge through an introductory environmental studies course and basic departmental course work taken from biology, chemistry, economics, geology, humanities, physics, politics, and sociology. The student selects one of these seven fields as his or her primary area of concentration. Working with an environmental studies adviser and with an adviser in the discipline selected, the student maps out a program of study which meets program requirements and the student’s interests. Work for the major is capped by a senior seminar, in which recent issues and publications are critically discussed, and a senior project, in which the student completes an original piece of work having to do with a selected environmental issue.

Recent student research includes salmon issues, logging and environmental conflicts in the Pacific Northwest, ecofeminism, regulatory strategies in the wetlands debate, cattle grazing impact on sensitive plants in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, the origins and future of the German Green Party, the changing culture of the U.S. Forest Service, the Wise Use movement in northeastern Oregon, environmental effects of the 1996 floods in the Pacific Northwest, integrated pest management as a strategy in apple orchards, the changing effectiveness of environmental organizations, water quality in Florida, fishing conflicts in Alaska’s Glacier Bay, and sea turtle populations in Mexico. The goal of the program is to offer the student a foundation in natural and social science and the humanities, so she or he can approach any environmental issue in a critical and informed manner. Environmental studies are thus combined with environmental science, management, and literature within a liberal arts program and philosophy. This basic preparation easily transfers to graduate training or to an immediate career in research, policy, or some other professional environmental direction.

Many of our students have also completed internships with environmentally relevant organizations located or based in Walla Walla, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, the Walla Walla County Office of Recycling and Waste Management, Walla Walla County Regional Planning, Kooskooskie Commons, the Blue Mountain Land Trust, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The hallmark of the Whitman program is its multidisciplinary organization, and its local and regional empirical emphasis. Students wrestle with the challenges and come to understand the necessities of an interdisciplinary approach in the elucidation of any environmental problem. They develop a literacy in understanding their Walla Walla environmental address, so they can appreciate the deep links between their temporary community and the surrounding human and natural environments.

Off-campus study offers students opportunities to expand their environmental perspectives. Regular field excursions are made to the Umatilla National Forest, the paper mill and paper recycling facility at Wallula Gap, the Hanford Site, nearby dams and sites where dams were proposed, solid and liquid waste facilities, the Umatilla Army Depot, and a new wind power “farm” on the nearby Horse Heaven Hills. The program also uses Whitman’s Johnston Wilderness Campus along Mill Creek in the Blue Mountains. In addition, Whitman has a “Semester in the West” program with an emphasis on environmental problems. Most environmental studies majors spend a semester away, commonly at one of the six centers of the School for Field Studies (South Caicos Islands, Australia, Baja California, Vancouver Island, Costa Rica, and Kenya).

Whitman’s Environmental Interest House (which uses electricity from photovoltaic panels) offers environmentally active students the opportunity to live together in community and create programs that promote environmental awareness. Alumni from the program are engaged in highly successful careers in science, law, business, education, and direct environmental advocacy and action.

Participating faculty in the program, who represent the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities, teach and conduct research in areas of special environmental interest, including the American West, alternative agriculture, Third World development, and geologic hazards.