Augustana University Announces Environmental Studies Major

May 20, 2020

May 20, 2020

Written by Public Relations & Communications Strategist Jill Wilson


Augustana University is excited to announce the creation of an environmental studies major that offers graduates with the training and skills necessary to help them lead the world towards a more sustainable and resilient future.

Dr. David O’Hara, professor of philosophy and environmental studies and Augustana’s director of sustainability, said, “We view environmental studies as a way to help every student use their talents to make a positive difference in our community. This is about loving our neighbors as ourselves, using every tool at our disposal.”

Environmental studies at Augustana will be interdisciplinary as the major will bring together the tools and perspectives of multiple disciplines, ranging from environmental chemistry, photography, computer science and anthropology to environmental philosophy, theology, business and nature writing. Since the environment cannot be understood through a single discipline, environmental studies majors will learn to examine and better understand the environment through an engagement with society, history and culture; through the study of law, ethics, justice and policy; and through the study of ecology and the mapping of data through GIS software. Students who choose to study environmental studies at the university will choose a disciplinary focus. The major culminates in a senior thesis and in the completion of a community-oriented practical project that aims to make a positive contribution to the relationships between humans and the environment in our community.

“Our aim is to have every one of these students already engaged in internships and jobs before they graduate, and to give them tools that allow them to hit the ground running. We want to equip them to make a difference in their community, and to prepare them to be top-notch innovators and problem-solvers,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara said Augustana’s faculty drew on some of the oldest and strongest environmental studies programs in the world in designing this major, borrowing time-tested ideas and adapting them to make the most creative and innovative environmental studies major in the region.This new major offers a new approach to growing problems at a time of unprecedented environmental challenges that touch our entire planet. There has been an expressed need for environmental theologians, lawyers, ethicists, artists and business leaders. In an effort to fulfill this need, Augustana students have participated in The Climate Reality Project, founded by Nobel Laureate and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, in Minneapolis and Las Vegas. Last year, O’Hara’s environmental philosophy class designed and built an outdoor classroom made of stone from across South Dakota. The design is low-maintenance and low-cost, it is resilient, and it is itself a teaching tool, displaying the major geologic features of our state in its design.

“We live in a time that calls for innovative and entrepreneurial thinking,” added O’Hara. “Every sector of our community and of our economy faces unprecedented challenges. An Augustana education is about preparing students to face those challenges with courage, wisdom and powerful tools. Every crisis turns out to be an opportunity to love our neighbors as ourselves. We want our students to thrive, and we want to see South Dakota become a world leader in solving the most pressing issues of our times.”

O’Hara added that while the major is new, Augustana students and alumni have been making a difference in environmental concerns around the world. Some, like Dr. Brent Loken, have been working to ensure that the entire world has access to healthy and sustainable food. Others work on rainforest conservation through a partnership with an indigenous conservation group in Guatemala, led by Dr. Craig Spencer of Augustana’s biology department.

“Our alumni go on to great graduate schools, work with National Geographic researchers, serve in the Lutheran Young Adults in Global Mission, in the Peace Corps, in medical fields, in law, in journalism, as social workers, as artists, as teachers, as pastors, and more. Our motto is 'Enter to learn, leave to serve.' And that is exactly what we are preparing students to do.”

Augustana’s strategic plan Viking Bold: The Journey to 2030 calls for developing a Center for Interdisciplinary Programs to coordinate existing and new interdisciplinary offerings. Phase one of that goal is to establish the center within the College of Arts and Sciences and develop medical humanities, environmental studies and programs associated with intercultural studies.

Prospective students wanting to know more about the major and career opportunities are encouraged to visit or contact the Augustana Office of Admission.

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