One is a marketing specialist for a community development program in Cleveland. Another is an environmental health and safety consultant. One is a tenured faculty member at the University of New Mexico, having earned a Ph.D. in population biology. Another is a lawyer working with international sanctions, export controls, and anti-corruption cases. But they were all among the Class of 1996—and members of the original group of Denison environmental studies majors.
Every few years, the group gets together for a reunion, and just before Commencement this year, they did it again, spending time with students in the classroom to discuss how far the Denison program, and environmental studies in general, has come since their own graduation 17 years ago.
When those 10 original ENVS students decided to take the leap into a new course of study with faculty members like Abram Kaplan, associate professor and director of the environmental studies program, and Tod Frolking, professor of geosciences, being green wasn’t exactly in vogue. There were no community gardens behind the Sunsets. No composting bins in the dining halls and few recycling bins under desks. In fact, the recycling program had only begun about a decade earlier, and these students took it to the next level, making their case to the folks in Physical Plant to allow students to do the sorting, and then spending Saturdays in old jeans and rubber gloves, combing through dumpsters for bottles, cans, and other recyclable material.
But they learned a whole lot more than that, coming in at the forefront of the environmental studies movement, and they studied everything from environmental policy to environmental impacts in remote areas of the world—and they paired that education with sociology/anthropology, biology, and communication.
“We were saying earlier today that no environmental problem is solved by one discipline,” Christopher Timura ’96 told a group of students during a panel discussion. “No business problems are solved by one discipline either. Being aware of the expertise that is out there and being able to bring that to the table and facilitate it, that’s a core skill that you guys have learned here in the environmental studies program.”
As Denison’s environmental studies program dips into its second decade, the students and faculty that take it into the future will always look back at the original members of the group. “I feel like I’m always telling students that if you have intellectual courage, you can leave a real legacy at Denison,” President Adam Weinberg told the members of the Class of ’96. “You represent that better than probably anyone.”
To the current students, Weinberg had this to say: “They, with a lot of courage and hard work, helped start something at Denison. They put the ball on the field, but we’ve got to move it forward.”