Environmental Studies Program History
It was January of 1972 when the late John Elmendorf, then president of New College, announced plans for an Environmental Studies Fund that would enable New College to further environmental research in the region from Sarasota Bay to Charlotte Harbor.
The New College Environmental Studies Program of the early ’70s bore the same name as today’s program, but was a different program entirely. Emerging two years after the first Earth Day, the original program sought to tap community support for the young unendowed college. At that time, environmental topics had a currency unmatched by other potential interdisciplinary studies. The program was to receive funds to enable contract research scientists to involve students in a search for data that could improve local environmental decision-making. A Citizens Advisory Committee provided a link with the region’s perceived research needs.
This early contract science approach did not last and in the mid-seventies Dr. John Morrill, New College professor of biology, refocused the program so students, not professional scientists, would assume responsibility for the direction and execution of environmental studies. Under his direction the program gained regional prominence as students defined and undertook research that could be used by the community. Dr. Morrill custom-tailored projects for students, emphasizing regional research, community service, team projects, and student research grant proposals. By producing ESP publications and taking students to conferences, symposia and field sites, he stressed the importance of communication and first-hand knowledge. In 1977, the burden of teaching, fundraising, and administering a program in addition to his major disciplinary obligations led to Dr. Morrill’s retrenchment. A non-faculty program coordinator, Dr. Ernie Estevez, was hired and the program persisted. Dr. Estevez expanded the seminar and lecture series, improved access to the resources of the Tampa Campus, and introduced new rigor into the process for receiving support from the Program.
In 1981, the graduates Julie Morris and Jono Miller became Program Coordinators. In 1984 the faculty established the Environmental Studies Steering Committee (ESSC) to oversee the program. The ESSC adopts graduation requirements, plans academic offerings, reviews student research proposals and evaluates the Program.
A program review in 2001 developed a rich set of recommendations, and many improvements were implemented by spring 2004, under the leadership of Dr. Heidi Harley. An introductory course and practicum were added to the curriculum, graduation requirements were revised, the ESSC was expanded, and Morris and Miller became Directors.
In 2003, Dr. Frank Alcock joined the Political Science faculty, with teaching and research interest in environmental studies. In the fall of 2004, Dr. Margaret Lowman, canopy researcher and author, joined the Program as Director of Environmental Initiatives.
Well into its fourth decade, Environmental Studies at New College has the faculty leadership, improved advising, and expanded curriculum to prepare undergraduate students for important roles in environmental management and research.