The chair of Brandeis University’s Environmental Studies Program, Professor Colleen Hitchcock, sat down for an interview with The Brandeis Hoot to shed a little light on the program, its future and herself. This interview is part of a series of interviews with the chairs of a plethora of different academic departments and programs at Brandeis.
Editor’s Note: This interview was recorded during the 2022 spring semester.
What do you wish that students knew about the Environmental Studies Program?
We are an environmental “studies” program, which means we’re an interdisciplinary program that marries the sciences with the social sciences and the humanities, and brings all of those things together. So we think about and integrate different perspectives in our program and our curriculum. The other thing that I think is really a nice strength is our Applied Learning Experience, which is an opportunity for students to take what they’re learning in their courses and apply it either through an internship or a study abroad program or even a senior thesis. Those are great ways to kind of make those connections to a community, however you define community. Whether it be your local community or the global community, [students make an impact].
What do you think that the Environmental Studies Program does right?
We focus on our students. All the faculty are pretty accessible; just email us to set up a time to chat and we’re happy to connect with you. So putting students at the center of who we are and what we do is definitely a strength.
What do you think the Environmental Studies Program could do better?
One area where we’re definitely trying to grow our courses that provide students with more “discreet marketable field skills.” That’s something that I would like to see Environmental Studies continue to grow in.
How is the Environmental Studies APPLE (Applied Learning Experience) requirement most often fulfilled by students?
Many of our students go abroad and participate in one of the programs that’s approved for the Applied Learning Experience, which tend to be programs that actually give you field experience and provide a cohort or community experience. Some of those field experiences can be things like doing tropical field research and others can be more about sustainability in cities. So there’s a kind of diversity of ways to compliment what you do [in the classroom]. The other thing that I think is super exciting is—even students who study abroad do this—is an internship. Those students just might not use the internship to fulfill their Applied Learning Experience. So the internships that students wind up doing are really exciting and can range from fieldwork to advocacy, and the internships really kind of run the gamut of people’s interests. So internships are the place where you see many students really kind of shine. Then there’s always a handful of students, but definitely fewer, who elect to do senior research or a senior thesis. We have maybe two to three of our graduating seniors do that and we have about 25 seniors a year graduating from the program. So internships are definitely [the most popular choice].
How has the launch of the Climate Justice, Science and Policy (CJSP) minor gone?
I think it’s gone really well. We’ve had 12 students enroll in the program in the first year. For a new minor, that’s a pretty strong showing. I think it’s definitely addressing a need and desire that students had. I’d say that’s another strength of the Environmental Studies Program: taking into account what our students want and trying to figure out ways to make it happen. We anticipate in the next three years that we’ll be able to expand the number of courses that are being offered within the CJSP minor. So that’s an area of growth that is exciting to see within the University’s curriculum overall. We really think that there’s interest beyond students who are majoring in Environmental Studies to join the CJSP minor because of how it compliments so many other topics and interests.
What can you tell me about citizen science on Brandeis’ campus?
There are two chronolog stations on campus. These are a way to create time-lapse photographic records of places. One is behind the Science Parking Lot and the other one is in front of the Rose Art Museum. [I will be working with researchers to] look at questions around phenology, climate change and the regeneration of native habitats …. It would be nice for students to know that they’re welcome to come and chat with me at any time to figure out a way to integrate science into their future, whether they want to become a professional scientist or not. At the core of what I do is thinking about how the public can participate in the engagement of science in the future.
What is your favorite class to teach?
It’s actually not hard for me to choose, it’s my citizen science class. It brings together all aspects of what I really like about the kind of science that I do, and really brings together science, community and education, which are three of my passions.