Last week marked the beginning of the new Fall semester, and the start of our second annual MEES Environment and Society course. This interdisciplinary course is designed to introduce students to various approaches for studying environment and society interactions. Students will be challenged to first explore epistemological differences between several ways of understanding complex socioenvironmental systems (e.g., ecological, anthropological, political, economic), and then consider various approaches to researching these “coupled” systems (e.g., cultural models, ethnography, transdisciplinary science).
Like last year, the course is being co-taught by Michael Paolisso (Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland) and Bill Dennison (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science), and I am once again serving as the Teaching Assistant. The three of us worked very hard over the last few months to improve both the course design and content delivery, with the help of the UMD Teaching and Learning Transformation Center. We are also very excited to welcome seven new guest instructors, who will lecture on diverse topics such as ecological economics, environmental justice, and ethnographic approaches, to name a few. The weekly topics and lecturers change each semester in this class, so students and instructors alike are always learning something new.
Students in this year’s class will complete a series of small writing assignments over the course of the semester, summarizing concepts learned from a selection of readings. A midterm paper assignment will offer students the opportunity to compare and critique various theoretical and applied disciplinary approaches for understanding and researching socioenvironmental issues. Finally, at the end of the semester, students will propose a novel interdisciplinary approach for researching a complex coupled system of their own interest. Additionally, each student will author a blog that synthesizes the information presented in the weekly readings, lecture, and class discussion. Upcoming student blogs and posts from last year’s course can be viewed on this page.
Environment and Society is a “blended” class, with a mixture of in-person and online meetings. Most classes are hosted on Zoom, an interactive video conferencing platform, but the first and last meetings this semester will be held in the MEES office at University of Maryland’s flagship campus in College Park. Last week on Thursday afternoon, students and instructors gathered to mark the start of the new semester.
This year’s students hail from University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) and several departments at UMD College Park, including MEES, engineering, and geography. They are entering this course at various stages of their degree programs, from PhD candidacy to the first semester of a Master’s program, and bring with them an impressive range of professional experiences, including international and government work. During our round of introductions, I learned that the students are passionate about a wide diversity of research topics, including environmental racism, community-based management, individual-level behavior change, socioecological impacts of land use change, and indigenous science. I am very excited to see what each of them will bring to the course and take away to use in their own research.
After class, we hosted the second annual Environment and Society foundation welcome reception. About 20 people attended, including students and faculty from UMCES, UMES, and various departments at UMD. Our recently-appointed MEES program director, Tim Canty, started us off by introducing himself, welcoming students and faculty, and emphasizing the importance of interdisciplinary studies. Ken Paynter, who previously served as the MEES director for 20 years, followed with a few words of encouragement for students studying pressing issues of importance to both the environment and society. Wayne McIntosh, Associate Dean for Graduate and Faculty Affairs in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (BSOS), expressed continued support and enthusiasm for the mutually beneficial relationship between the MEES program and BSOS which continues to grow and strengthen. For the remaining time, students and faculty got to know each other better through both formal introductions and casual conversation.
It has been exciting to play a role in developing this new foundation and course over the past few years, and even more rewarding to see a talented and inspiring community of peers and mentors beginning to form. I am looking forward to getting to know all of the Environment and Society students and guest lecturers over the next several months of the course— we’re off to a promising start!