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Environmental Science major provides a hands-on experience for Springfield College students

By Cait Kemp

Justin Compton, Associate Professor of Biology and the Environmental Science (ENVS) Program Director, takes pride in the major that he helped to build when he arrived as a professor on campus back in 2014.

Environmental Science is a unique program at Springfield. Relatively new, it is still small but growing each year with new students who hold a shared passion to help the world. This drew in current senior Alexis LeBrasseur when she was looking into different college programs back in high school.

“Nothing really stood out to me and I was also trying to stay close to home. That is until I heard about a newly added Environmental Science program at Springfield College,” LeBrasseur said. “It is a bonus to be able to say that I was one of the first few students to be in the Environmental Science program.”

Environmental Science is a very hands-on major, and the program emphasizes just that. Rather than learning and researching strictly within the labs, students in the department have the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom.

“The goal of the program is to cultivate student perspectives of environmental issues and really provide students with some sort of, you know, knowledge-based, technical knowledge of issues that are of different scales – local, regional, global scale,” said Compton.

Students are encouraged to do their own research about things they are passionate about, which leads to stronger understanding about the world around people and how the environment is affected. They are given ample opportunities to figure out their interests so the program can be tailored to one’s appeal.

“We try to do this through both academic courses and other co-curricular activities, whether that’s research or outreach, we have an environmental science club,” Compton said. “Ultimately, the idea is for students to learn how human activity impacts the environment.”

The courses offer an opportunity for students to go into the environment and see the things they are learning about in the classroom. For example, one class called Flora and Fauna of New England was able to apply the information that was being taught in the class, while also experiencing the natural world.

“Our lab period was every Monday and for every lab we got to go to a different site, sometimes it was a hike, sometimes it was a wildlife sanctuary,” LeBrasseur said.

Compton and another biology professor recently created an upper-level biology course that involves students going to Costa Rica on a 10-day trip to live and conduct research of their own. Although it is not a requirement for Environmental Science majors, it offers an incredible experience that allows students to dive deep and fully immerse themselves in the field of study.

“I think it was very powerful from a students’ standpoint, I know for myself it was just so engaging on so many different levels, the teaching, the research…. It was a really neat experience,” said Compton.

The Costa Rica trip was not able to happen this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, but they plan on picking back up with it next year.

Students in the ENVS major take part in many different internships during the semester or at home in the summer.

“I think between the internships, our international experience and our research, I think we offer students a tremendous amount with respect to being able to get into the field and take, kind of, that theory and knowledge from the classroom and really put it into some applied area,” said Compton.

LeBrasseur is currently doing her internship at the Forest Park Zoo in Springfield. She is tasked with animal care such as feeding, cleaning and maintaining their habitats.

“This gives me a chance to work with many different species, see how they live and interact, not only with each other, but also with their environment,” she said.

Regardless of the size of the major, Environmental Science is a powerful program. With the opportunities provided to students to develop their knowledge on the important matters within the environment, it is preparing them to be able to make a difference in the world outside of Springfield College.

Photo Courtesy of Justin Compton

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