I'll start with a quick story from Ecuador, one of Lewis & Clark's overseas programs for its students which I visited in January as part of our Mellon Foundation-sponsored environmental studies initiative. That photo you see there on the right is of our students posing at, well, the equator. But actually, there was a bit of dispute over where the equator really is: just across a ravine from where the students are posing is the official Ecuadorian site called Mitad del Mundo, whereas this site, part of the Museo de Sitio Inti-ñan, claims to be on the actual equator. So, who is right?
Well, one thing we do in the Environmental Studies Program is what we call "situated research": for a fuller description, see here. An important technology we often apply toward situated research is GIS (geographic information systems), and the first step lies in knowing where you are. So, geek that I am, I brought a GPS on the trip, and we decided we should check these claims as to where the real equator is. The Museo de Sitio Inti-ñan folks were right: the real equator is not at Mitad del Mundo. But, at least according to our GPS readings (and Google Earth as well), it's not exactly at the Museo site either. Turns out the quickest way to the equator was to walk about a hundred meters from Museo to the middle of a busy road—not the best place to put a commercial establishment!
So, how does this all connect to environmental studies at Lewis & Clark? First, we offer some great opportunities to study environmental problems and solutions all around the world, in places like Ecuador. Second, and perhaps more significantly, environmental studies at Lewis & Clark adopts the same sort of attitude toward environmental issues as I and our students did toward claims as to the "true" equator: we prefer to figure things out for ourselves whenever possible instead of just believe what we are told. And what we discover all the time are fresh insights on environmental issues, not what we hear time and again but new ideas.
Student here amaze me every day with their fresh ideas. They may end up a bit controversial, and they may end up challenging the establishment view of things—such as where the real equator is. At the end of that day in Ecuador, though, we rode back to Quito satisfied that we had figured something out for ourselves. That active, critical, engaged approach to learning is what we do here. In future posts you'll get to meet some of our students, faculty, and staff, and see the world of environmental issues through their eyes.