The development of a new curriculum within institutions of higher learning has immense potential rewards, especially if it brings to the institution a new way of thinking about a subject. Accomplishing this, however, is not without attendant challenges of institutional change due to the array of infrastructures involved within the process of developing new courses, let alone a new curriculum. The challenge is amplified when the curriculum transcends multiple departments within the institution. Add to this the need to integrate physical, biological, social, and engineering components across college domains and we have a wonderful opportunity for discourse, conflict, and change. Implementing curricular enhancements in the realm of environmental science is almost invariably a complex endeavor, but the manifold benefits make the effort ultimately rewarding.
The Earth System
Inspired by NASA (1988) and the ESSE program initiated by NASA and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA 2005), many educational institutions applied for and received grants to create new courses under the banner of ESSE. Three groups, with approximately 20 educational institutions each (cycling from 1992 to 1995 (ESSE-I); 1995 to 2000 (ESSE-II); and 2001 to 2006 (ESSE 21)), were awarded funds to initiate two Earth system science courses at their institution, one survey level, one senior level, with the overall objective of enabling students to learn to utilize NASA assets to learn about the Earth system (Johnson et al. 1997).
The goal of this section is to describe the evolution of the ESSE programs at selected educational institutions. To accomplish this, four universities were examined to identify both innovations and institutional barriers overcome that led to successful development of ESS courses. The institutions selected for this assessment include three who developed papers for the Journal of Geoscience Education Special Issue: Symphony of the Spheres, describing their successes, evolution, and lessons learned. These include California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB), University of Michigan, and University of Illinois.The fourth institution is Michigan State University, where this author has participated in the development of an ESSE program. Each of these institutions joined the ESSE program in Phase II (1996).
These institutions represent: 1) a university that was created in 1994 (CSUMB) and succeeded in developing a thriving undergraduate program centered on ESSE; 2) a university which started a program in Global Change in 1991 (University of Michigan); 3) a university that developed an ESS course and is in the process of extending it to an undergraduate environmental science program (University of Illinois); and 4) a university that created a trans-college undergraduate course and a graduate environmental science and policy program (Michigan State University).