The course makes environmental science accessible to all students – News

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25 October 2021

A new course at Carnegie Mellon University delves into the connections between water, air, land, and life on Earth.

Environmental Systems on a Changing Planet is taught by Ryan Sullivan, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering. He is also associate director of the Institute for Green Science. First offered in Fall 2020, the course is one of the compulsory courses in CMU’s new additional major in Environmental and Sustainable Studies and is open to CMU students of all disciplines.

“To do sustainability well, you must first understand how natural environmental systems work,” Sullivan said.

“Environmental Systems on an Evolving Planet” explores how solar and biochemical energy moves through interconnected systems on Earth, recycling nutrients; how complex environmental systems work to produce critical resources such as food, water and materials; and how human activities interfere with and alter environmental systems during the geological epoch of the Anthropocene. Students who wish to deepen technical sciences and engineering are invited to register for an additional 3-credit course taken with this course.

Claire Chiang, a junior in biological sciences was unable to take general environmental courses in high school, so she enrolled the first time the course was offered.

“I really enjoyed talking about the chemical side of environmental science. It was very interesting as a biologist to get into chemistry and think about how chemicals I can’t see are so evident in my daily life, ”Chiang said.

Sullivan said his goal is to make the classroom super interactive.

“In order to understand the importance and wonder of environmental science, students need to experience it,” he said. In 2020, he intended to take students on field trips to places such as the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and the Frick Environmental Center, and planting trees along the Allegheny River as part from the Pittsburgh Redbud Project, but the pandemic forced the class to be taught entirely virtually. Sullivan improvised with self-guided individual student outings to locations chosen and offered by each student. Students watched documentaries, including the Netflix documentary “Our Planet,” so they could examine, in class discussions, how the show brought the course concepts and environmental systems to life.

Nicklaus Smith, a senior who is majoring in social and political history and plans to complete an additional major in environmental and sustainability studies, said the course is linked to his academic activities.

“My areas of research are in fracking policy, air pollution, and environmental justice issues, so I knew the course would be incredibly complementary,” Smith said. “I also loved the interdisciplinary nature of the course. I think it is one of the most essential ways of learning due to the different backgrounds that can work in tandem to create a holistic learning experience for all. people involved.Environmental problems often exist as a crisis discipline these days, so to solve problems like climate change, endocrine disruption and ecological collapse, we need a concerted effort of interdisciplinary thinkers to find solutions. . “


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