The Department of Environmental Studies (ES) celebrated its 50th anniversary with a symposium honoring the legacy of the coordinate major and exploring its future at Bowdoin.
Last Thursday evening, Teona Willaims ’12 kicked off the symposium with a keynote lecture on her journey as an environmental justice advocate at Bowdoin and her current work as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in the geography department at Rutgers University. As a recent and accomplished graduate of the ES program, Williams offered a unique perspective on current environmental issues, stimulating dialogue across campus.
A series of alumni panels took place on Friday, beginning with an environmental storytelling panel moderated by Senior Lecturer of Environmental Studies Eileen Johnson and Paul Wang ’24. The second panel of the day, titled “Climate Change and Sustainability,” was led by Professor of Environmental Studies and Oceanographic Science Phil Camill and Sophie Burchell ’23. The final panel, “Environmental Design and Planning,” was moderated by Senior Lecturer of Environmental Studies Jill Pearlman and Leif Maynard ’23.
Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies Matthew Klingle explained that celebrating the department’s 50th anniversary with alumni panels recognizes the importance of current and former ES students to the department’s success. Director of the environmental studies department and Professor of History and Environmental Studies Connie Chiang added that although the fourteen alumni panelists only represent a small portion of the accomplishments of ES graduates, they reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum and the diverse range of ways to approach environmental challenges.
Senior Transportation Planner at Metro Grace Cho ’05 spoke at the Environmental Design and Planning panel. During the event, she explained how the ES coordinate major gives students both the complex knowledge and interdisciplinary framework to succeed in any career path they choose.
“As ES majors, you are bringing a real interdisciplinary lens to the table, and you’re always thinking about all the possible interconnections and about how all those interconnections affect the environment,” Cho said.
In addition to discussing their perspectives on various challenges in their fields, panelists shared anecdotes from their time at Bowdoin that have guided them in their professional pursuits.
Chair in Sustainable Coasts in the Department of Marine and Coastal Environmental Science at Texas A&M University Sam Brody ’92 recounted how his first two classes at Bowdoin, Environmental Studies 1101 and Environmental Philosophy, fostered the passions that have led him to where he is today.
“The teachers at this school who I got on the first day of my first year set the tone for the rest of my career,” Brody said. “[Those classes] rewired my brain in a matter of a week, and I walked around outraged—but inspired—for the next four years.”
Like many of his peers, moderator Wang valued the opportunity to speak with alumni who offered specific advice about their pathways from Bowdoin to their current careers.
“I really enjoyed reading [the panelists’ work] and learning about their career trajectories to where they are now. Talking to them showed me that they all have had awesome experiences postgrad, and they did not take a linear path to get there. Sometimes you hit a dead end, but you can always find a way to make those experiences really interesting,” Wang said.
Program Coordinator for Environmental Studies Rosemary Armstrong added that the goal of this event was to build a network of relationships between faculty, students and alumni in the ES department and encourage reflection on the history and future of the program. The meet-and-greet at the end of the day in the Roux Center for the Environment accomplished this goal.
“The idea was to bring people together, to share ideas and to spark conversation as well as thinking forward for the next 50 years. What are topics that we should be thinking about now, and what should we be covering in the major?” Armstrong said.
Organizers Chiang and Armstrong both cited this collaborative effort among students, alumni and faculty as evidence of how far the ES program has come in 50 years. More importantly, it embodies the potential of what it can become.
“Overall, I think the symposium was a success.… It was a gift to be able to take in [the panelists’] knowledge and celebrate their accomplishments. I hope that our current students found their presence to be both informative and inspiring,” Chiang said.
Sophie Burchell ’23 is a member of the Orient.