HMC Adds Environmental Analysis Emphasis

It is no secret that student-driven environmentalism is gaining momentum at the 5Cs. The 5C Divestment Campaign continues to put pressure on college administrators to withdraw investments from fossil fuel companies, and the CALPIRG Energy Corps recruits more students each semester. Hoping to create an academic framework for this surge of student interest in environmental issues, Harvey Mudd College announced the creation of a new emphasis in environmental analysis (EA) on Feb. 27.

“We’ve had a lot of student interest in environmental issues, and … the place is just loaded with people trying to make differences in renewable energy, climate change. But we haven’t on this campus organized ourselves in some sort of effective way,” HMC physics professor Richard Haskell said. “From the student perspective, what’s been missing is a structure to mentor them, to give them some advice.”  

However, Pomona College EA professor Richard Hazlett said he fears that the integration of more HMC students into the 5C EA program could exacerbate existing over-enrollment problems in the department, which he described as heavily understaffed. EA is already an exceedingly popular major; since 2002, approximately 2,500 students have passed through the three-course introductory sequence.

Hazlett said he routinely teaches introductory classes of between 50 and 75 students. At a college with an average class size of 15 students, such enrollment numbers are highly unusual. With the establishment of the new HMC emphasis and its three humanities, social sciences, and arts (HSA) requirements, Hazlett anticipates a greater number of students finding it difficult or nearly impossible to enroll in certain key Pomona EA classes.

“I think they’ll run up against some enrollment speed bumps. It’s almost impossible for students now to get into two very critical classes,” Hazlett said, referring to courses taught by Pomona politics professor Heather Williams.

Haskell is the head of the HMC Center for Environmental Studies and is one of the main driving forces behind the new environmental certificate. He is one of 13 to 14 professors at HMC who have become advisers for the program, although he says at least eight other professors have expressed interest in getting involved.

Haskell said that the certificate will signify to graduate schools and potential employers that a student is serious about applying their skills to environmental issues. The new emphasis is comprised of six courses: two technical, the three HSA classes, and the sixth the choice of the individual student.

Hal Van Ryswyk, a chemistry professor at HMC and one of the advisers for the new emphasis, said program creators chose to weigh HSA courses heavily due to the interdisciplinary quality of modern global problems.

“It’s not like there’s going to be a single silver bullet technical solution. These problems are so complex because there’s political and economic aspects. There’s a long history of what’s going on, and so we feel that folks who are going to make an impact in this field need to understand that from a number of different perspectives,” Van Ryswyk said.

The emphasis program represents HMC’s first formal contribution to the 5C EA program. Known for its interdisciplinary qualities and multiple tracks, the program is run primarily out of Pomona and Pitzer Colleges and boasts majors from all five colleges. Van Ryswyk and Haskell believe it is high time HMC joined the movement and started offering on-campus EA options for its students. Both are very clear, however, that the EA emphasis is not intended to be a substitute for HMC’s rigorous technical training.

“We’re not graduating people who are EA majors here. Harvey Mudd students have the option of majoring in anything in Claremont if they don’t like one of the seven majors here at Harvey Mudd, but our focus here is to take folks who want to be engineers, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and give them some structure in environmental analysis so that they can go forth and better understand the impact of their work on society,” Van Ryswyk said.

He described the emphasis as “an overlay” for a student’s existing major.

Priya Donti HM ’15 said she is very excited about the new emphasis.

“When I first declared my major as [computer science]/math, I was unsure how I could incorporate environmental classes into my schedule,” she wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “The emphasis seems to provide a great path for me to take environmental classes both related to and unrelated to my major.”

Though hesitant about enrollment and overloading issues, Hazlett was also complimentary of HMC’s new emphasis certificate.

“I think it’s a very progressive view on their part, and it’s sniffing the wind, smelling change a lot more effectively than a lot of colleges and universities,” he said.

Haskell and Van Ryswyk doubt that HMC’s new emphasis will make much of an impact on the demand for introductory EA courses since the emphasis does not require the three-course introductory sequence. They do recognize that more HMC students might wish to venture off campus for upper-level HSA requirements, however, and are already considering ways in which HMC professors might help to alleviate 5C EA overcrowding problems. Both mentioned the possibility of an HMC-sponsored introductory environmental science course.

“I would dearly love to teach an EA 30 course, which is the science-based laboratory course. Keck Science is really oversubscribed with that. I think we’ve got some people here who could teach that; I think it would be a lot of fun,” Van Ryswyk said.

Van Ryswyk and Haskell also hope that the reorganization and creation of environmentally focused technical classes at HMC will attract students from other campuses.

Although the emphasis program is currently in its infancy, Haskell foresees a bright future for environmental analysis at HMC.

“I think there are maybe 23 people now, and they just keep joining in. It’s probably going to be very popular,” he said.

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