New interdisciplinary minor to address student interest in environment & sustainability

This fall, the Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) is introducing a new interdisciplinary minor in Environment & Sustainability, open to students from all majors. The minor aims to provide every student an “opportunity to explore how to apply their major towards environmental challenges” and to integrate various fields including engineering, science, governance, and culture through hands-on learning.

Susan Solomon, ESI’s first director, laid the groundwork for the minor in April 2014. Her successors, executive director Amanda Graham and faculty director John Fernandez, equipped with the advice of more than 40 faculty and lecturers from the five schools of MIT, saw it to completion.

Students who take this minor have to complete two core subjects, newly created for the minor, and a minimum of three electives to successfully earn a degree.

The fall core subject People and the Planet (12.387), Graham wrote, will introduce the students to policy-making and prepare them to “work at the interface of science and government.” Susan Solomon from the department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Services (EAPS), John Sterman from the Sloan School of Management, and Noelle Selin from the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) will be teaching this subject.

“Students will negotiate a global climate agreement in an interactive role-play simulation of the UN climate negotiations called ‘World Climate.’ After they offer their emissions reductions pledges, students will then use an interactive computer simulation model to see what the likely impacts would be and whether their commitments succeed,” Sterman wrote in an email to The Tech. “The model they use is no classroom toy: it is also used by negotiators and policy-makers from a number of critical nations.”

Students will leave the class with a better comprehension of the policies and regulations behind developing new energy technologies, and of how to present them to businessmen and media to bring about a positive change, Selin wrote in an email to The Tech.

Asked what impelled ESI to create the new minor, Graham cited three main factors: strong student interest, strong faculty interest, and urgent environmental changes.

To gauge student interest in environment and sustainability, ESI and the Undergraduate Association’s sustainability committee conducted a survey in 2016. Of around 880 undergraduate students, 60 percent of the respondents expressed moderate to strong interest and almost 50 percent indicated that they could see themselves pursuing a career in this field.

The four major steps involved in developing the minor included: indication of a clear rationale and interest, creation of a program structure, approval of proposal, and finally the launch of the minor, Graham wrote. “The development of the E&S Minor was a tremendously positive experience. We are excited to get the word out to students. We are ready to get started!”