Environmental Studies Minor: An Opportunity for Global Impact

by Tobin Perry

The environmental crisis is urgent. Richard Slimbach, PhD, a professor in Azusa Pacific University’s Department of Sociology, TESOL, and Modern Languages, described in critical terms the worldwide problems facing students in environmental studies: Up to one million plant and animal species are at risk. Ozone smog threatens breathable air for billions of people.

Yet there is hope for change, and Slimbach believes these challenges give students with a passion for creation care a remarkable opportunity to be involved in important work. “Humanity and nature are both in deep trouble,” he said. “If the gospel of the kingdom of God includes ‘right relationship’ with humans and others, these developments present the Church with perhaps its greatest challenge as an instrument of planetary shalom.”

The Potential Impact of Environmental Studies

Cities occupy only 2 percent of the earth’s surface, but more than 75 percent of the world’s population will inhabit them by 2050. Without healthy cities, there won’t be a healthy planet. To get to this healthy state, cities such as Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Delhi, and Beijing—which Slimbach described as “ground zero for all ecological and social crises facing the planet and its most vulnerable peoples”—will need to upgrade their policies and institutions.

“Over the next few decades, virtually every urban system will need to be redesigned: land use and transportation, architecture and building, energy provision and food production, water management and waste cycling, commerce and ecological restoration,” Slimbach said. “Fundamentally, we must transform the way we work, shelter, heat, cool, transport, feed, and play on this planet. What the Old Testament prophets understood as shalom continues to be the great work of this generation.”

How APU Can Prepare You to Help

APU is committed to educating the current and next generations to lead in this important work. The university’s 18-unit Environmental Studies Minor helps students make vocational and personal lifestyle decisions that allow them to make a positive impact on the environmental crisis facing the planet.

“For a number of years, there has been a recognized need to offer an interdisciplinary environmental studies program at APU,” said Louise Huang, PhD, acting dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the director of the Center for Research in Science. “In early 2018, several faculty members from various disciplines (biology, chemistry, global studies, business, theology) met to discuss this possibility. Eventually, four faculty members formed the Environmental Studies Minor team to write and submit the program proposal that was approved in spring 2020.”

According to the team of faculty who helped shape the minor, the program seeks to “summon students to what Pope Francis calls an ‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”

The minor prepares students for the “great work” that Slimbach described through practical experience, specialized knowledge and skills, and the building of a spiritual and ethical framework for interpreting and responding to environmental problems.

Pathways for the Environmental Studies Minor

Slimbach said careers where students can put environmental studies to work include nonprofit management, urban public policy, community development, cross-cultural ministry, environmental health, sustainability planning, urban education, international social work, public health, and human rights and protection.

This interdisciplinary minor combines well with a number of majors, including biology, biochemistry, economics, international business, philosophy, sociology, interdisciplinary studies, international relations, social science, English, journalism, public relations, communication management, Christian ministry, and public affairs.

Sarah Richart, PhD, a professor in APU’s Department of Biology and Chemistry, explained that environmental studies students typically complete one natural science course with a lab, one class from the humanities, one to two classes from economics, and one class from social science. In addition, students take an introductory environmental studies foundation class and a capstone/policy class that includes an internship. Several of these courses can be taken through APU’s Study Away program in places such as Lake Tahoe and South Africa.

Are you interested in making a positive impact on the environment? Learn more about Azusa Pacific University’s environmental studies minor and read about how to reduce your environmental footprint.