“Morris’s sustainability initiatives make it an ideal place for students to think about and become engaged in environmental issues outside of the classroom. Looking back, I can’t think of a more appropriate context to study issues of the environment than on a campus where renewable energy, community engagement, and local foods are emphasized.”
Asking the right questions
Looking for definitive answers to environmental questions?
You won’t find them in the environmental studies program at Morris, says Ellie McCann ’10, of St. Joseph, Minnesota But if you’re looking, instead, for “the tools to ask questions,” you’re in the right place, she says, a place where “it’s empowering and exciting to study.”
Complex environmental issues “don’t have definitive answers,” says McCann, who came to Morris with a “seeker” outlook, but no clear idea of what to major in. “My first year, I took classes across the disciplines, just exploring. It was great!”
One thing she enjoyed was discovering “the connections between disciplines,” a hallmark of the liberal arts. When it came to choosing a major, “I wanted to find a way to focus my studies, while continuing to explore issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. Environmental studies was a good way to do that.”
In classes as diverse as the Geology of the National Parks, Environmental Political Theory, Plant Systematics, and a literature course called Imagining the Earth, McCann “found the ideas and tools to ask questions, and to look closely at the places you love.” The environmental studies faculty–drawn from science, social science and the humanities–“is phenomenal,” she adds, “one of the greatest assets of the program.”
During her junior year, McCann participated in a national student exchange at the University of Montana at Missoula. In Montana’s Wilderness and Civilization program, she studied land use, wilderness ecology, wildlands conservation, environmental politics, and urban sustainability. She also did an internship on a certified organic farm in the Missoula Valley. The farm, Clark Fork Organics, produces specialty crops, such as salad mix and arugula, cut flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Chickens supply eggs and help control insects. Goats provide milk, manure, and weed control. Through the internship, McCann “gained a new perspective on diversity, local foods, and issues of environmental and social sustainability.”
Back in Morris for her senior year, McCann served as a member of Minnesota Green Corps, an environmentally focused AmeriCorps program developed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the University of Minnesota, Morris, and ServeMinnesota. She and three other Morris Green Corps members developed a variety of projects aimed at preventing waste and increasing energy efficiency. The students helped organize recycling programs at two area schools, and did outreach education on topics such as reducing office paper use and composting.
Inspired by her Missoula experience, McCann served as the volunteer coordinator for Pride of the Prairie, the Morris campus’s local foods initiative. She was also involved in the local foods co–op and the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group.
Having an environmental studies program on the Morris campus is a perfect fit, McCann says, “especially because of the culture of student leadership and civic engagement. We are encouraged to put what we learn into practice, to be active in creating our community.”
“I have more of a science background than most of my fellow graduate students or even most professional urban planners. I think that gives me an edge.”
Balancing competing needs
Environmental Studies at Morris was excellent preparation for graduate work in urban and regional planning, says Marcus Grubbs ’09.
Grubbs, of Blaine, Minnesota, is pursuing a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in the Twin Cities. Urban and regional planners have to balance the competing needs of the environment, land use and transportation, infrastructure, and housing development, he says.
Grubbs got interested in this field during a year long undergraduate internship with the City of Hoffman, a small town 23 miles from Morris. Working with the community economic developer, “I got to be involved in the behind–the–scenes work that actually shapes a city.”
At Morris, Grubbs took a concentration of science electives for his environmental studies degree, including chemistry, physics, ecology, and conservation biology. That sets him apart in the urban planning program, he says. “I have more of a science background than most of my fellow graduate students–or even most professional urban planners. I think that gives me an edge.”
In 2010, for example, Grubbs worked with the City of Anoka, a Mississippi River town, on shoreland development rules and regulations. His training in the natural sciences proved to be very helpful, he says.
Grubbs’s Morris education offered other advantages, too. The rural setting gave him “more opportunities to get involved in things.” He worked as an EMT for the local ambulance service for three years, “an enriching experience that got me involved in the community.”
He also formed a connection with West Central Environmental Consultants, a Morris company that cleans up hazardous materials. In the summer of 2010, he did an internship at the company, writing county emergency plans to deal with everything from oil and chemical spills, to nuclear accidents, to floods, fires and tornadoes.
After he finishes his masters degree, he may pursue emergency management. He sees himself working “within the political process” to “inform decision makers” about the needs of cities and the environment.
“I’m thinking of advocacy work or law school, where I could use my chemistry background as a foundation for understanding problems and how to solve them.”
A passion for water quality led Lauren Hunker ’10 to earn a double major in chemistry and environmental studies at Morris.
Hunker, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, started out as a chemistry major, thinking she’d work in pharmaceutical research. “Then I took a class in hydrology and got really interested in the field of water contamination.” So she added an environmental studies major. “It fit perfectly with chemistry and my interest in water issues, and helped me explore the subject more fully.”
The environmental studies program at Morris “gives you a very broad background.” That’s essential, she says, because environmental questions have many dimensions: “There’s a lot that needs to be included in the study of environmental problems.”
Environmental studies at Morris is also “very flexible,” she adds. “It caters to what interests you.” Hunker’s course plan included physical geology, environmental biology, global change ecology, environmental problems and policy, and environmental ethics. “The guidance from professors was really helpful” in designing a program that let her delve deeply into her subject, she says.
Hunker spent a summer doing soil and water quality research with soil scientist Jane Johnson of the USDA North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris, one of the college’s research partners.
After her junior year, Hunker did an internship with Maryland SeaGrant, working with University of Maryland scientist Johan Schijf. She evaluated the accumulation of trace metals on algae. The research has implications for marine life.
Doing an internship–a requirement for an environmental studies degree at Morris–was really valuable for sorting out her career goals, Hunker says. “It made me realize that I didn’t want to work in a science lab full time. Now, I’m thinking of advocacy work or law school, where I could use my chemistry background as a foundation for understanding problems and how to solve them.”
“I’m interested in our food system, and I want to better understand–and help others understand–where our food comes from.”
The many facets of food
Collin Sandoe ’12 is keenly interested in sustainable agriculture. So why is he majoring in environmental studies and political science?
Morris’s environmental studies program can be tailored to an individual student’s interests. For Sandoe, environmental studies is a good way to explore the social, political, environmental, and ethical dimensions of food production.
Sandoe, of Rochester, Minnesota, came to Morris intending to major in environmental studies. He was familiar with the program because his older sister, Jenna Sandoe ’10 also earned an environmental studies degree.
Sandoe’s interest in sustainable agriculture was sparked by a course called Environmental Political Theory, taught by political science professor Sherri Breen. That class took him to The Land Institute of Salina, Kansas, which is trying to breed perennial grain crops that produce as much grain as annual varieties, but don’t have to be seeded every year.
Sandoe is also exploring food–related issues in co–curricular activities at Morris. He serves on the board of directors of the Pomme de Terre Food Co–op in Morris, one of Minnesota’s oldest natural foods cooperatives. In the spring of his sophomore year, he organized a tour of area cattle farms, which gave students a firsthand look at contrasting livestock and cropping systems. And he helps organize a monthly campus–community meal, which brings students and townspeople together for fellowship and local foods.
Following up on his interest in politics, Sandoe is co–chair of the Morris chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, a student organization that works on environmental and social issues. He was also a 2010 delegate to the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor (DFL) party convention.
Sandoe hasn’t yet decided on a career, but he’s convinced that the environment and climate change “are issues that demand our attention.”
“I’m getting experience in one of the agencies I’d like to work for, making contacts, talking to people who do the jobs I want to do.”
Networking for the future
An environmental studies internship let Adam Pankratz ’12 get his foot in the door with the federal agency he hopes to work for.
Pankratz, of Alexandria, Minnesota, is preparing for a career in natural resources management. The environmental studies program at Morris will give him a broad foundation in both science and government. His 2010 internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided good job experience and lots of professional networking opportunities.
Pankratz, married and the father of two children, is a non–traditional student. He worked in law enforcement in Montana for a decade. When he decided on a career change, Morris had both the program and the price he was looking for.
Pankratz’s environmental studies major gives him broad exposure to the natural sciences. “Geology is my focus, but I have a strong interest in biology, too,” he says. “With environmental studies, I didn’t have to specialize.” His elective plan includes an emphasis on government and economics. This dual focus will be an asset in managing public lands, he says.
“Natural resources managers are making decisions on mining, timber, fishing, wildlife,” and other issues relating to the use of public resources. “You need a basic understanding of science, but also economics, how government works, the permitting and regulatory process. You have to know a bit about everything.”
That’s one of the strengths of Morris’s interdisciplinary approach to environmental studies, he says. “You could say it’s a ’jack of all trades’ kind of degree, but so many jobs need that.”
In 2010, Pankratz interned at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s wetlands office in Morris, working with the Youth Conservation Corps. “I’m getting experience in one of the agencies I’d like to work for, making contacts, talking to people who do the jobs I want to do.”
“If you’re interested in the environment, you can build your own course of study at Morris, and tailor it to your interests.”
Policy launching pad
Cassie McMahon helps Minnesotans stay informed about the quality of the air they breathe. The 2007 Morris environmental studies graduate works in air quality monitoring and outreach for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
McMahon, who grew up in East Troy, Wisconsin, came to Morris thinking she’d focus on political science. “But I found myself also gravitating to the natural sciences,” where she was eager to “apply what I was learning in my social science classes.”
McMahon graduated before Morris had a formal environmental studies program. But the college has long let students design a major, so that’s what McMahon did. Her self–designed environmental studies program let her merge her interests in the social and natural sciences. “Morris was a great place to do this,” she says. “The people at Morris are interested in so many things, and they work hard to make links between the various disciplines. And the faculty are so willing to work with students to make sure they get the most out of their experience.”
After her sophomore year, McMahon did an internship in Washington D.C. with the Sierra Student Coalition, the student arm of the Sierra Club. She was part of a group of six Morris students doing D.C. internships that summer. Four of them shared a house.
McMahon worked on a grassroots campaign to promote renewable fuel standards. It was a valuable experience, she says, helping her clarify her career goals. She realized she was “more interested in how environmental policies are created,” than in political organizing.
During her senior year, McMahon participated in Morris’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), which gives students the chance to do paid research. McMahon compared environmental literacy among college students at the University’s Morris and Twin Cities campuses. Morris students, she says, scored highest in environmental awareness, perhaps reflecting “lots of activities on conservation and sustainability” on the Morris campus.
McMahon participated in student government all four years at Morris and served for two years as the Morris student representative to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. She also participated in Morris athletics, and was co–captain of the women’s cross country and track teams.
Her environmental studies degree–plus her leadership activities at Morris–helped McMahon land a job with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s air quality assessment unit. She does air monitoring and issues public air quality alerts.
McMahon is also working on a master of science degree in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Eventually, she hopes to work on federal air quality policy development.
Morris gave McMahon the chance to develop her interests “in a welcoming, but challenging environment,” she says. “If you’re interested in the environment, you can build your own course of study at Morris, and tailor it to your interests.”
“I think Morris is a perfect place to study the need, the implications, the policy, and the economics of environmental issues. Not only does this program offer some of the best professors on campus, it allows you to explore several disciplines. And you will be doing so at a school that is dedicated to being green, in the heart of rural Minnesota.”
The value of being versatile
For Kate Beyer Paris ’05 versatility is one of the great virtues of environmental studies at Morris. Her rapid career advancement bears that out.
When Paris started college, she was planning to be a high school chemistry or biology teacher. After she explored that, though, “it didn’t feel like the best fit for me.”
She ended up majoring in English, yet she didn’t want to give up science. Morris didn’t then have a formal environmental studies major. So Paris took advantage of Morris’s option for designing your own major. She worked with biology professor Peter Wyckoff to plan a program that would give her “enough science background to be able to understand the science behind environmental policies and initiatives. I was interested in how government, business, and the environment relate to one another.”
Her program included basic classes in the natural sciences–chemistry, biology, geology, ecology–plus social sciences courses in politics, government, and sociology.
Paris also worked on the campus’s local foods initiative, Pride of the Prairie, organizing community meals and a campus farmers market. She also did an internship at West Central Environmental Consultants in Morris, where she worked on a wellhead protection plan.
After graduating in 2005, Paris worked for the Consumer Services Division of the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.
Then she moved to the Minnesota Legislature, where she was a committee administrator for the House Agriculture, Rural Economies, and Veterans Affairs committees. She helped develop legislation, working with lawmakers and legislative staff, lobbyists, and the public.
In 2008, Paris joined the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute, which develops new uses for Minnesota farm products. She works with entrepreneurs, government officials, economic developers, industry organizations, and scientists. “I’m a bridge” between all these different players, she says, a role that “the liberal arts prepared me for.”
Paris also coordinates the Minnesota Renewable Energy Roundtable, a public–private group that promotes renewable energy through policy, research, economics and finance, infrastructure, and talent development.
“For me, the interdisciplinary nature of environmental studies has proved to be the most beneficial reason for pursuing this major,” says Paris, who lives in Burnsville, Minnesota, and works from a home office–and her car. “The combination of political science, biology, geology, and English courses has prepared me for a variety of jobs.”
“College is a prime time to get students thinking about the world around them and their impact on it.”
Awakening the environmental imagination
Katrina Floyd, of Stewartville, Minnesota, was halfway through her English degree at Morris “when I realized I was really missing out on science.”
Morris’s environmental studies program offers “the interdisciplinary major I was looking for,” she says. Environmental studies let Floyd connect her two areas of interest, through courses such as The Environmental Imagination, Environmental Ethics, and Environmental and Geographic History of the U.S.
During her years at Morris, Floyd was deeply involved in Residential Life. She served as a Residence Hall director for two years. For her senior project in environmental studies, she developed a series of environmentally related residential life programs, including curriculum for environmental learning circles, a community garden, and a nature photography contest.
Floyd also did a summer internship in environmental education at the Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, Minnesota, where she led outdoor educational activities for students from preschool to ninth grade. She returned the following summer as a regular staff member.
These experiences helped Floyd discover her calling as an educator. In the fall of 2010, she began a graduate program in College Student Affairs at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She plans to work in student activities, residential life, or admissions. She hopes “to help students become more environmentally minded, like those at Morris. My passion for working with college students really came from Morris and the faculty and staff there.”
Environmental studies is excellent preparation for this career path, Floyd adds. “College is a prime time to get students thinking about the world around them and their impact on it.”