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Seeds of teaching programs in environment planted across campus

STANFORD -- Stanford students with environmental interests can choose among an unusually diverse array of educational paths. The university offers an interdisciplinary Earth Systems major, and environmental courses and programs in more traditional single disciplines ranging from biology to law.

Students in Earth Systems begin with a broad core of courses covering biology, physical science and economics, then go on to concentrate in one of these areas, resource management or environmental technology. Students end the program by completing a senior research project that applies their knowledge to a real problem.

"[The Earth Systems major] is not strumming guitars and sitting around the campfire planning the next protest rally. It's trying to figure out what we can do about problems," said Gary Ernst, dean of earth sciences and one of the founders of the new major.

Eighteen students already have declared the new major, said program director Jonathan Roughgarden.

"That almost doubled the majors in the Earth Sciences school," he said. "I don't think it will ever get bigger than about 45 or so. It's a very stiff major and there just aren't that many people willing to take that many units."

The capstone of the Earth Systems major, an honors program that would bring students from all the tracks back together in their senior year for an interdisciplinary seminar, is being developed by research associate Roz Naylor of the Institute for International Studies. Naylor foresees that each year the students would work with one or two Stanford faculty and visiting experts to combine their areas of individual expertise in a year-long interdisciplinary study of a single environmental problem.

The honors program, funded by a $2 million endowment from the Dick and Rhoda Goldman Fund, should be in full swing by the fall of 1993, Naylor said. She plans to begin identifying potential students this fall, and might start the first seminar in the spring of 1993.

Students who want to concentrate on environmental aspects of a single discipline can find strong programs in biology, applied earth sciences and economics. But students also might look in some unexpected places like engineering, law and business.

The civil engineering department's environmental engineering program - ranked number one in the nation by U.S. News and World Report this year - has long been a leader in the search for technological solutions to environmental problems, said department Chairman Haresh Shah. In contrast to Earth Systems' blend of science and policy, however, civil engineering has concentrated on technology and avoided social policy issues.

"Basically, we're interested in problem solving. Defining a problem is something engineers do very well," Shah said. "You cannot build castles without foundations. We have the strongest foundation in the nation in terms of knowing what the problem is and how to solve it."

The law school offers a half-dozen core courses in environmental and natural resource law, ranging from water and energy law to international environmental law and policymaking processes, said law Professor Barton Thompson.

"All these courses are open to non-law graduate students," Thompson said, and some attract a large minority of students from outside the law school. "Personally, I'd love to have even more non-law students. It adds a very valuable dimension to the class."

In addition, law students have formed an environmental law society, which publishes a journal in environmental law as well as books and manuals on environmental law.

"There's probably a core of 30 students who are very interested in environmental issues, and then another 30 or 40 students who have a strong secondary interest," Thompson said.

"Five years ago, we had no program in environmental law here. Now, we're attracting the top environmental law students in the country."

In the business school, Jeremy Bulow teaches a course in environmental policy and management that features Stanford researchers, representatives of such national environmental groups as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and government and industry experts.

This year's class attracted some 40 students, including 12 mid-career managers spending a year at Stanford as Sloan fellows. The course, and the interest it has sparked, may mark a turning point for environmental awareness in the business school, Bulow said.

"Whereas historically, the business school hasn't done much in this area, things are changing around here," Bulow said.



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