Welcome to Environmental Studies

The natural setting that surrounds the city of Walla Walla, Washington, 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. In addition to the agricultural, grazing and timber activities that make up the predominant economic uses of the land of southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon, environmental studies students have ready access to a great number of resources: 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; 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 - Toucannon Wilderness Area, and the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project; the Malheur Field Station (in Burns, Oregon); the Boardman, Oregon coal generating plant; and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, particularly the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, based in Pendleton, Oregon.

The 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. To do this, the program combines a broad set of relevant courses in the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities.

Environmental studies majors first develop a common core of knowledge through introductory environmental studies courses and basic departmental course work taken from biology, chemistry, economics, geology, physics, politics, and sociology. The student selects one of these seven fields as his or her primary area of concentration. Working with both the environmental studies advisers and 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 has investigated the Hanford "Isaiah" project for plutonium disposal, logging and environmental conflicts in Idaho, 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 the region, environmental effects of the 1996 floods in the Pacific Northwest, integrated pest management as a strategy in apple orchards, and the changing effectiveness of environmental organizations.

The goal of the program is to offer the student a foundation in natural and social science, so that she or he can approach any environmental issue in a critical and informed manner. Environmental studies are thus combined with environmental science and environmental management within a liberal arts program and philosophy. The basic preparation can then transfer easily to further 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. Forest Service, the Walla Walla County Office of Recycling and Waste Management, and Walla Walla County Regional Planning, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Department.

The hallmarks of the Whitman program are its multidisciplinary organization, and local and regional in 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. Field trips and internship opportunities are a vital part of this experience.

Whitman's Environmental Interest House offers environmentally involved students the opportunity to live together in community. Interest in the program on campus is high and increasing. And environmental studies alumni are engaged in successful careers in science, law, business, education, and direct environmental advocacy and action.