Oberlin Blogs

My Path to Environmental Studies (and why I recommend it to double-degrees!)

December 9, 2022

Claire O’Brocta ’23

When I came to Oberlin four years ago as a newly admitted double-degree student, I intended on being a computer science major in the college and a TIMARA major in the conservatory. TIMARA worked out just fine, but after my first semester, I decided I didn’t want to pursue computer science like I originally thought.

I took an introductory computer science class my senior year of high school and thoroughly enjoyed it. We learned the basics in a lot of areas, such as HTML and CSS, object-oriented programming in Scratch, and coding in Python to control little robots. I liked that I could combine the skills with my other interests, and I ended up incorporating graphic design and music making into many of my projects. As a result, I thought computer science would be the perfect companion to my TIMARA major in college.

This led me to sign up for CS 150, Oberlin’s intro computer science class, in my first semester of college. It was focused on Python, and went a lot more in depth with it than my high school class did. I honestly had a lot of fun with it, and did really well academically too. However, towards the end of the semester, I started feeling like I didn’t want to go much further with computer science. I was grateful to know basic programming, but a lot of the areas of the upper-level classes didn’t excite me, and I wasn’t a fan of spending so many late nights in the King computer labs. Additionally, most of my college classes would have been confined to classes within the computer science department, and I wanted more room to explore different things. After all, that’s one of the things that drove me to Oberlin’s double-degree program in the first place, exploration!

I was originally signed up for CS 151 in the spring semester of my freshman year, but I swapped it last minute for an economics class during add/drop. The professor was an environmental economist, and brought up issues related to the environment in a lot of the lectures. He was so passionate about it, and engaged my curiosity a lot. I was actively searching for a new major, and that class made me wonder if environmental studies might be the right fit.

Later that semester, when registration for fall classes rolled around, I decided to go for it and sign up for ENVS 101, the intro environmental studies course. I chose intro chemistry as my other class in the college, both because it would count for environmental studies if I decided to pursue it as a major, and because I really liked chemistry in high school and kind of missed doing science labs. It definitely helped that I had a friend in the class too!

ENVS 101 excited me from the start, but what really sold me on taking more environmental studies classes was the field trip we took at the end of September. We went on a bus to visit various environment-related sites around Oberlin, such as the water treatment plant and reservoir, the solar panel field, and a local farm. It was fun, intriguing, and made me feel more connected to the community I live in. By the end of the semester, I found an advisor and took the first steps to declaring my major.

The class and the field trip were enjoyable, but they’re also something any student at Oberlin can do, with or without majoring in environmental studies. Whether you intend on majoring in ENVS or not, I highly suggest taking 101. There are several specific reasons beyond that why I recommend the major, though, especially to double-degree students.

Remember earlier when I said how much I like to explore in college? I don’t think there’s a more perfect major for that than environmental studies. It’s cross-discipline to the extreme, and I absolutely adore that about it. I’ve taken 10 out of the 11 classes I need for the major, and only three of those 10 have been exclusively within the department: 101, 201, and 354. The other classes have been in a range of departments – everywhere from natural science ones such as chemistry, biology, and geosciences, to social sciences like psychology, politics, and sociology. Other environmental studies majors I know have gotten arts and humanities classes to count as well, in departments such as religion, studio art, and dance. Even the intro computer science class I took counted, though unfortunately I don’t think it counts anymore for new majors.

This cross-departmental extravaganza is perfect for double-degrees because of how few classes we take in the college relative to students who aren’t in the con. It’s a great way to maximize variety in the college classes we do get to take. Also, most distribution requirements can be satisfied with classes that count for the major, leaving room to explore even further and take electives in whatever you want for the rest of your A&S credits. Since I didn’t start the major until I was a sophomore, I had already taken care of many of these requirements my freshman year. Even so, I still appreciated the departmental diversity in my major requirements, especially compared to computer science where I would have just taken CS and math classes for the major.

Environmental studies has even more room to choose your own adventure once you get into pathways. Pathways are required concentrations within the ENVS major that allow you to direct electives and capstone projects into a more focused aspect of the discipline. My pathway is in Environmental Communications, which gives me the amazing opportunity to tie my passions for writing and storytelling into my academic work. This pathway has paved the way for me to combine my environmental studies and TIMARA skills on certain projects, but I also appreciate the fact that it doesn’t force me to. Another great thing about my pathway is it led me to an internship with Oberlin’s Sustainable Infrastructure Program, which I discussed in a blog about what I did that summer. My last environmental studies class, which I will take next semester, is an Environmental Communications-focused private study with my advisor, and I feel like it’s going to be the perfect wrap up to this major for me.

Both environmental studies and TIMARA are majors with an extremely wide range of future possibilities, which is another thing that I love. I’m a fifth-year and graduating in less than six months (!!), so post-college life has been at the forefront of my mind lately. It amazes me just how many options I have career-wise with these two majors, and I think it will allow me to keep exploring different possibilities far beyond my time at Oberlin, should I choose to do so.

Environmental studies was a better fit for me than computer science, and based on the experiences I’ve had with the major, I’m so happy I chose it. I’m not discounting computer science at all, though! My CS background came in handy for a lot of my TIMARA work, and even one of my environmental studies projects. Several of my friends are computer science majors at Oberlin who got a lot out of their education there as well. Ultimately, what’s most important is choosing the major that’s best for you. Though I highly encourage people to consider environmental studies, I mostly just want to encourage keeping an open mind when selecting your major. You never know what that might bring!

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