|Four ESSE Innovators|
The California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) was established in 1994 just as ESSE Phase II was emerging as a paradigm. The faculty and administration there seized the opportunity to start afresh and build an undergraduate curriculum around the ESSE philosophy. The result was their Earth Systems Science and Policy (ESSP) curriculum (Head et al., 2006) where the mission of the program is to enable students to understand the Earth's systems and their interactions through applied learning and research, with an emphasis on marine, coastal and watershed systems. At CSUMB students complete an array of foundation courses, and then choose a concentration from among Marine and Coastal Ecology, Watershed Systems, Environmental Policy, Science and Social Justice, or Teacher Preparation. Students gain technology training, including Geographic Information Systems, Remote Sensing, Global Positioning Systems, and computer modeling. All ESSP majors complete an in-depth independent capstone project that demonstrates their ability to apply a systems approach to environmental problem solving.
The University of Michigan initiated the research and graduate education-based Global Change Project in 1991, prior to the establishment of the NASA/USRA ESSE program. Michigan was subsequently awarded ESSE funds in 1996 (Phase II) under the leadership of Tim Killeen, with the goal of integrating the ESSE paradigm into the Global Change Project to enhance its undergraduate education dimension. After initially focusing on the dimensions of global change for science majors, a component of the program shifted to bring non-science majors into contact with the principles of global change. The intent was to lead students from all disciplinary backgrounds to insights based on the perspective of a contemporary scientific description of the changing global environment and human relationships with it (van der Pluijm, 2006). (See also The Broader Path) The curriculum has recently been adopted by the College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts, which required the addition of an interdisciplinary course to the undergraduate degree.
The University of Illinois joined ESSE in Phase II (1996) and developed courses under the leadership of Walter Robinson (Ruzek 2005),who developed multidisciplinary courses, such as Illinois in the Changing Earth System. Since then, the university has been developing a new undergraduate major called Earth Systems, Environment and Society (ESES) which is described by Wuebbles et al. This initiative is attempting to reconstitute the environmental science undergraduate curriculum by linking curricula from multiple departments and schools in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The result will be an undergraduate degree program integrating physical, biological, and social sciences, as well as humanities, into a systems-focused approach for studying the Earth.
The planners envision that all majors in the program will be required to fulfill three introductory breadth requirements, including a sequence in Earth Systems, Environment and Society, a two semester colloquium series, and technical skills training. Students can then specialize into one of two concentrations: Science of the Earth System (SES) or Society and the Environment (SAE). All students in the program will complete a capstone course in the senior year that consists of 1) a faculty supervised research project, or 2) an intern experience, or 3) a project-oriented course.
Michigan State University joined ESSE in Phase II (1996) under the leadership of Stuart Gage. No existing program at MSU fit the ESSE paradigm, so Gage (Entomology) recruited colleagues from the Geological Science, Botany, and Zoology departments to design Introduction to Earth System Science. This faculty collaboratively developed a course theme on the function of the biosphere. To bring in the biosphere's human dimension, the teaching team asked a member of Sociology to join them.
In Fall 1996, eight graduate students across disciplines were recruited to participate and contribute to the first class. Faculty and students interactively explored the dimensions of the biosphere and how it functions. A synthesis diagram of the biosphere was developed, and it emerged as the working model for the course (Colunga et al., 2002).
Currently, the course is administered through the Department of Entomology and cross-listed in the departments of Geological Sciences, Plant Biology, Sociology, and Zoology, which cross-cut the Colleges of Natural Science, Social Science, and Agriculture and Natural Resources. Funding from the Provost, matched by the colleges, provides continuing support for a senior course facilitator.
Now taught through the Honors College, the course is capped at 80 students and requires each student to write a formally reviewed paper describing an organism's link to the biosphere. Founding faculty (Gage, Long, Webber, and Harris) continue to teach the principles of system science, roles of organisms, distribution of biomes, biogeochemical cycles, social systems and human managed systems, energy flows, the role of water, water resources, and microbes in the biosphere. Additional subject matter, including Urban Systems and Human Health (Colunga), Global Change and Land Dynamics (Skole), Remote Sensing Technology (Qi), Plant Systems (Safir), Biodiversity (Lindell), Climate Dynamics (Winkler), and Ocean Dynamics (Ostrom), provide a system perspective on the function of the biosphere. The new graduate Environmental Science and Policy Program is currently functioning as a separate entity but environmental science at the undergraduate level remains within departments.
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