Courses and experiences prepare students for careers in fields from renewable energy to finance.
By Kris Dreessen
Katelyn Adis ’24 entered Geneseo undeclared, open to trying many courses and activities in which she had interest, including dance, anthropology and environmental issues. She helped plan campus Earth Week events and joined Geneseo’s award-winning, student-run composting program.
“I realized I’m passionate about sustainability,” says Adis, “and I can definitely see myself doing this for the rest of my life.”
Adis is a recently declared sustainability studies major in the new Department of Geography and Sustainability Studies. Launched in fall 2021, the new major was inspired by student interest, ever-increasing environmental issues, and Geneseo’s commitment to sustainability. Professor of Geography James Kernan earned a fellowship to create the major and is the coordinator.
Thirty-two students declared sustainability studies as their major by the end of the semester.
“There is an increasing interest in sustainability, as many students wish to address pressing economic, social and environmental problems through their careers and lifestyles,” says Kernan.
Through coursework and interdisciplinary studies across themes of society, development and the environment, students prepare for graduate studies or careers in sustainability — from renewable energy and urban planning to conservation, food production and finance. Course offerings also reflect the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and support sustainability as a core value of the College. Internships, co-curricular activities and study abroad experiences are encouraged. Last fall, for example, students toured the Rochester Art Guild, attended a fabric-dying workshop using black walnuts and visited an organic dairy farm with a cheese factory powered by methane from an anaerobic digester.
Although Geneseo didn’t have a sustainability major when she transferred as a junior, Lauren Goulet ’22 chose Geneseo because of the commitment to sustainability its school leaders and students showed through eco-friendly facilities, composting, a dedicated Office of Sustainability and an eGarden in which students and faculty actively grow food, experiment with solar power and explore other projects.
“The school has a lot going on that I wanted to be a part of,” says Goulet, who is a member of the Geneseo President’s Commission on Sustainability. “You can tangibly see and visit the efforts, such as the Roemer Arboretum, the greenhouse and geothermal wells to heat buildings. I was like, ‘Wow, this school is putting sustainability into practice and doing cool things.’ It’s a gold star: the College is working it into the culture of the school. Creating the major shows this is a priority.”
As a sustainability intern, Goulet co-ran the garden committee, planned volunteer opportunities for other students, composted and built raised beds in the gardens, and created a vertical herb garden in the Eco House living-learning community made from wooden bleachers from the old Schrader Gymnasium. She’s learned she wants to focus on hands-on education in her career.
Another new sustainability major, Yaro Bautista ’23 partners with faculty and staff on sustainability planning as student member of the President’s Commission on Sustainability. He plans to use his foundation in philosophy, women and gender studies and sustainability studies in a campaign management role to create better political policy. Students realize how many issues affect their future, he says, and they want to make a difference.
Five of the 2022 Geneseo Student Ambassadors projects focus on aspects of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, which have been adopted by an ever-growing number of governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations worldwide that address hunger, poverty, education equality, health, conservation and other issues. Goulet and Brendan Shortt ’22 will research and build a food forest on campus that will supply harvests in all growing seasons. Other projects aim to strengthen food security for students on campus, start an oral hygiene program in New York City’s Chinatown, and create a curriculum for area public schools that represents students of color in film and literature. Adis and physics majors Emma Parker ’24 and Kayla Andersen ’24 are using the $5,000 award to design and build a solar heater for the campus greenhouse.
“The heater will allow Geneseo to start the growing season sooner, and extend it,” says Adis. “I’m really excited to be part of this innovation. There are so many opportunities to explore and lead. That’s the greatness of this major, and I’m enjoying finding the focus for my career.”