Beginning ENVS 330: Synthesis and Exploration

As the third Environmental Studies core class at Lewis & Clark College, ENVS 330 centers around synthesizing previously learned knowledge to stimulate capstone ideas. To wade through everything we’ve learned in all the ENVS related courses taken so far, we filled in a table outlining the major concepts and skills learned in each course. Upon completing this assignment, I realized the true breadth of all I have learned but also some overarching themes. The concept of evaluating “wicked” problems like climate change from ENVS 160 resonated with me as I appreciated how we looked into why people disagree rather than why climate change is a problem in the first place. This helped me view climate change as an important social issue rather than a purely physical one. To assess such “wicked” problems, one must begin with asking the right questions. The core theme of asking and answering questions via an interdisciplinary toolkit in ENVS 220 helped greatly with knowing how to analyze a variety of issues. Besides ENVS core classes, learning about the geology of the Pacific Northwest, particularly with regards to LIPs and rates of basaltic cooling in GEOL-150, spiked my interest in the relationship between waterfalls and their underlying geology. Such concepts were taken a step further in The Fundamentals of Hydrology as I got to research the actual geologic makeup of waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. I appreciated learning skills like SCS analysis that will be helpful for analyzing issues that can affect waterfall discharge like land cover in the watershed. I would enjoy learning more about fluvial processes that can change a waterfall’s appearance or provide hazards to tourists. We briefly touched on bed and suspended load in mountain rivers in Hydrology but I’m eager to learn more. Apart from scientific concepts and skills, I also enjoyed learning how to do hands on research in classes like the Political Economy of Food in which we visited a basil farm and conducted a live interview. I enjoy experiential learning and hands on research. I intend to include both these skills in future projects.

Although a great deal of the ENVS related courses I’ve taken so far differ greatly, commonalities do arise. One that struck me in particular are the ways in which “wicked” problems are approached in both ENVS 160 and the Political Economy of Food. Both approach these issues from a social aspect and look at all the details. For example, in examining issues like pollution from chicken farming practices, we took apart the “commodity chain” and examined everything from how the chickens are being treated to what human labor is involved. The “commodity chain” approach taught in Political Economy of Food relates to the ENVS hourglass as both look at broad issues, analyze them through  specific methodologies, then reflect on broader implications. Ideas such as flood frequency and hydraulic threats to Portland’s water system examined in GEOL-150 also applied to Hydrology as we performed a more in depth flood frequency analysis of the Molalla River. All of these skills and concepts combine to encapsulate a truly interdisciplinary major.

In examining the hourglass research approach, I’ve read several honors theses including: Planning Gentrification: Municipal Policy & Price Effects of the Orange Line in Portland, OR, by Jessie Simpson, and Recreating the Sacred Landscape by Robin Zeller. I also read a few articles from ENVS related journals. One that particularly stuck out to me was Splitting the South: China and India’s Divergence in International Environmental Negotiations. This paper helped set an example for how to take massive international issues like divergence in international environmental negotiations and tease out key issues like differing domestic policies. Of both theses I read (listed above), I appreciated how in depth Simpson’s background section was as it set up his case study in a sensible, detailed, and thoughtful way. I also appreciated the significant amount of religious study that went into Zeller’s thesis. The religious aspects of mountain tourism connect well with the spirituality of certain waterfalls which is a part of my concentration. It is because of his thesis that I added a religious component to my concentration.

One comment

  1. I liked how you drew comparisons between a couple of the classes you took and your interests in waterfalls. It was cool to see how that interest has grown and matured over time because of the classes you’ve taken. I especially liked how you connect the religious aspect of Zeller’s piece with the religious aspects that surround many waterfalls. Are you planning on doing live interviews surrounding your concentration on waterfalls? I know you said you learned that skill in one of your classes and plan to apply it.


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