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Global Environmental Change & Sustainability

Name: Tiffany Tembreull

Year: Class of 2012

Hometown: Lino Lakes, MN

Major: Global Environmental Change & Sustainability


Coming to Hopkins, I had it all planned out: I was going to be a biology major with an entrepreneurship minor on a pre-med course and go to medical school and become a pediatrician and keep small children happy and healthy for the rest of my life.  Obviously, as I am writing under Shriver the environmental sustainability major, plans have changed.  It only took me a half a semester here at the Hop to figure out that I really didn’t know what I wanted.  I was lucky to have taken a couple of environmental related classes here that led me down an academic path that truly fits me.  Officially, I am a double major in Global Environmental Change and Sustainability and Public Health (Natural Sciences) on a pre-med course. Yes, every time anyone asks me about my major, I have to smile and rattle off the long title just listed and just chuckle when someone asks how that’s going to fit on a diploma.  With that said, I couldn’t be happier with my current track.  (Photo: Shriver Hall, part of the beautiful Hopkins campus!)

Cindy parker bookGECS is the newest major on campus, so there aren’t many of us.  To me, this made the major even more appealing.  I am, at the very least, Facebook friends with all the students in the major.   Our advisor, Cindy Parker, is wonderful; she is very knowledgeable about our goals and what we want to get out of our education.  The coolest thing about this major, I think, is the fact that it crosses many disciplines.  Not only do I cover all of my distribution credits required for graduation simply by taking the required courses, but I am exposed to many different fields of study that I otherwise would not have experienced had I stuck with a biology major.  It overlaps fairly nicely with pre-med requirements, but is not centered around those courses.  I also really like that the course requirements offer lots of choices (i.e. ‘choose two of the following’ followed by a table of 4 or 5 courses).  Not only does it offer flexibility when trying to fit classes together (yes, sometimes time conflicts are unavoidable), but also allows you to choose a class that will really interest you.

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important issue in politics and everyday life as our precious Earth’s resources are being used at exceedingly high rates and respect for the SEXit competition environment by industries is often ignored (Can you say job security?).  There are numerous research opportunities in environmental sciences and alternative energy initiatives out there.  I recently applied for a summer internship through the EPA (keep your fingers crossed!).  On campus, there are many clubs and groups that deal with sustainability and the environment.  Recently, there has been a push to make our dining facility more environmentally friendly by buying locally, indicating which foods leave higher carbon footprints, offering vegetarian and vegan options, and reducing waste.  This is one of several initiatives on campus to increase sustainability (another is SEX:it, an annual competition of energy conservation between dorms on campus).  Currently, Gilman Hall is being completely renovated in an attempt to make it Mount Vernon more environmentally sound.

If all works out, I will graduate from Hopkins, spend a couple years doing Teach for America (a great program, check it out!) and go to medical school, I am looking into the Uniformed Services School of Medicine.  After which I will complete all the internship, residency, and possible fellowship requirements to become an OB/GYN.  I think I want to work in a women’s shelter, or do some sort of social work where I can use my M.D.  My plans for post-graduation have changed more than once, so this is only the latest aspiration.  Hopkins has opened my eyes to so many opportunities; I have trouble deciding which path is best for me.  But of course, that is what my many academic and professional advisors are for.Beach

The trick to having a great undergraduate experience here at Hopkins is not to build the best resume or follow the path that you think will make you the most money in the future, but to do something you truly love.  Find your niche, find what you’re passionate about, and follow that path.  Environmental Sustainability is my niche and I couldn’t be happier with it.


Click hereto access more information about the Global Environmental Change & Sustainability Undergraduate Program of Study.To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the GECS question thread.


Global Environmental Change & Sustainability

Name: Keith Spangler

Year: Class of 2012

Hometown: Berlin, MD

Major: Global Environmental Change & Sustainability

Image001 Even before Al Gore told me the inconvenient truth, I have been passionate about the environment.  In a time where “disposable” is the new consumer buzz word, bigger is better, and fossil fuel consumption has run rampant, environmental activism is more important than ever: that’s where my major comes in.  Global Environmental Change & Sustainability (GECS) is the study of Earth as a rapidly changing physical, cultural, and political entity.  If you have a passion for the earth, a global mindset, and a strong desire to bring about change, then GECS might be right for you.

One of the greatest things about GECS is the curriculum.  This field of study takes a multidisciplinary approach to give students a global perspective that truly fosters well-roundedness.  I really like this liberal arts approach to environmental science because it involve so many aspects – political, economical, and social – that science alone cannot sufficiently describe its relevance in a global community.  For this reason, GECS majors are required to take a wide variety of courses in the natural sciences, social sciences, and political sciences.  Also, there are two paths in the major: Natural Science and Social Science.  Here’s a quick breakdown of the requirements for the Natural Science path, which is the one I’m following:


  • Intro to Global Environmental Change
  • Intro to Sustainability
  • Intro Chem I and II w/ Labs
  • EITHER Physics I and II w/ Labs OR Biology I and II w/Labs
  • Calc II
  • Microeconomics
  • Geoscience Modeling
  • Capstone Seminar for GECS majors
  • 1 Statistics course
  • 2 Political Science courses
  • 4 Environmental Science courses
  • 1 Psychology course
  • 4 Social Science elective courses

The Social Science path is even more flexible than this, as many of these requirements are replaced with your choice of Social Science courses.

Another perk of the GECS major is the department.  Nestled in the woods outside of Hodson, Olin Hall houses the Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) department.  The advisors are extremely helpful, available, and open to recommendations.  Many of the course requirements can be substituted for other courses (if you can make a compelling argument in your favor), which adds another layer of flexibility.

So at this point, I’ve portrayed GECS as being a globally-driven, flexible major in a really supportive department.  But, you may be thinking: “What am I going to do with a major in GECS?”  A good question, and one that my mother asked with skepticism.  The truth is that more and more employers are looking for candidates with a background in sustainability, so it’s actually quite versatile.  Whether you are interested in business, medicine, law, public health, or nonprofit work, GECS can help prepare you for your career.

Particularly of interest to my pre-med side was the option of choosing a five-year Master’s degree program.  Within the next few years, the EPS department will be offering five-year Master’s programs in Environmental Public Health with the JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health, Environmental Business with the Carey School of Business, and International Studies with SAIS in DC.  I am strongly considering the Public Health path because I want to get a strong foundation in the fundamentals of environmental public health prior to medical school.

Internships are easy to come by with a GECS major, as well.  The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, is always looking for students to fill positions at their DC office.  Other environmental groups, such as the Maryland Coastal Bays Foundation, also offer internships and paid opportunities for GECS majors to get experience in environmental science jobs.

Finally, it’s really easy to get involved in environmental activities on campus.  One group I’m really Image004 involved with is the Johns Hopkins Outdoors Club (JHOC).  Okay, so we aren’t exactly the NRDC, but we do practice environmentalism with our strict “Leave No Trace” policy and overall appreciation for the earth.  For more direct involvement in sustainability initiatives on campus, there are several student groups that work closely with the school to bring Hopkins closer to having a zero carbon footprint.  Some such groups are the Eco-Reps, Students for Environmental Action, Engineers for a Sustainable World, and the Hopkins Energy Team.

All in all, Global Environmental Change and Sustainability is a great major that will give you all the tools you need to succeed in your career as a global citizen.  It has a variety of applications, tons of internships and career opportunities, and plenty of ways to get involved right on Homewood Campus.  If you are like me and are driven to save the world, consider becoming a GECS major.  If not, at least keep recycling.

For more information on sustainability at Hopkins, visit The Johns Hopkins Sustainability Initiative website!

Click here to access more information about the Global Environmental Change & Sustainability Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the GECS question thread.


Environmental Studies

Name: Jessica Kraus

Year: Class of 2011

Hometown: Tenafly, NJ

Major: Public Health (Social Sciences)

Minor: Environmental Studies

(Editor’s note: Starting in Fall 2009, the Environmental Sciences program is now part of the new Global Environmental Change and Sustainability program.)

A Rather Long Introduction on How I Found the Environmental Studies Minor
Looking back, I realize now that no high school student truly knows what college will be like…especially academically. When visiting any college as a junior and senior in high school, a student will be handed a brochure on the school. While I was on college tours, some people seemed so confident about what they planned on majoring in when in college. For me, I didn’t fully understand many of the majors listed on those college brochures. Sure, I had taken biology, English, math, and history courses…but many colleges have lists of majors that far exceed the limited subjects exposed to in high school. Does a high school student really know what biophysics is? Sociology? Anthropology? Writing Seminars? Chemical and biomolecular engineering?

Image002Although I was pretty uncertain on what I wanted to major in, I would sometimes say that I wanted to major in environmental studies. I already knew in high school that although I loved the environment and had spent all of my summers doing something environmental-related, that four years taking natural sciences courses was not on my horizon. I knew that schools with environmental studies majors were approaching environmental issues from a less “science-y” perspective and a more inter-departmental approach. An environmental sciences major on the other hand, usually takes lots of labs that wouldn’t be expected in environmental studies. I looked at schools with environmental studies majors but was never sold on the school itself.  (A picture of me outside at the New York Botanical Gardens, one of my favorite places to be outdoors at home.)

Image003 After visiting Johns Hopkins, I was sold. The campus was beautiful, the students were challenging themselves, the campus size, and the location of the school were just what I wanted. I was impressed by Hopkins’ extended list of majors, but also somewhat disappointed that it didn’t contain an environmental studies major. However, looking back I couldn’t be happier that I chose Hopkins. One of the main reasons is because I have been able to create a major/minor combination that I wouldn’t have been able to at any of the other schools that I had visited.  (A picture of me on a visit to Hopkins after having been admitted.)

As a pre-freshman admitted early decision to Johns Hopkins, I began looking deeper into the requirements for majors and minors at Hopkins (see the checklists here ). I became interested in the unique public health major that Hopkins has. My dad always joked that I was constantly checking the college brochures for a “Save the World” major. He may have been exaggerating, but it was true that I wanted a major that I knew would inspire me and prepare me to make a positive impact on the world. Public health, far different than any “health” class I took in high school, is a major that looks to prevent health problems from happening in the first place on a population-scale. Public health is a very broad major and there are many areas of specialization within it. Hopkins’ public health major was also attractive to me because it had two separate paths within—a natural sciences track and a social sciences track. The natural sciences track includes all of those (fun) pre-med requirements, whereas the social sciences track does not. I was also attracted to the major because I knew it would have to do indirectly with the environment. Sure enough, the more classes I have taken related to public health, the more I have realized just how much the environment connects to today’s world health problems.

My public health major has also been complimented with an environmental studies minor. The environmental studies minor, according to the checklist, “is meant for international studies majors and other social science or humanities majors who wish a general introduction to the disciplines that are concerned with the Earth’s environment.” As someone who constantly was striving to see human’s interconnectedness with the environment, this seemed like the perfect minor for me.


The Minor Itself
One great thing about the environmental studies minor is how easy it is to complete. The minor only requires 12 credits worth of courses within the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, at least half of which must be at the 300-level. Twelve credits usually translates into just four courses.  Many of these courses may be inter-related with other departments like public health or environmental engineering. A helpful hint: If there is a course within the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering that seems of interest, check with the Earth and Planetary Sciences department to see if they will count the course to the minor.

I have already taken four courses that count for this minor, but I am not stopping there! Last year, as a freshman, I took a freshman seminar called Conversations with the Earth. Many people take this class
Image008simply to fulfill distribution requirements, but I took this course just to get a better understanding of the department. The class is filled with guest speakers. By the end of the course, it is obvious how vast research is within environmental sciences. The course also includes a field trip to Gettysburg. Although I had already been there, it was interesting to learn about the battle through a geologists’ perspective. Last year I also took the course entitled Climate Change: Science and Policy. This is a very popular course for students from all majors. The course is taught by Professor Waugh who not only has an awesome New Zealand accent, but knows how to introduce climate change as a topic that goes way beyond science. The class teaches students to realize the power of effective policy. I also enjoyed this course because for my final project, I was assigned to write an essay on the public health impacts of climate change on Japan. I really liked being able to learn the direct connection the environment has with public health.  (The picture is of Professor Waugh, who taught the 300-level Climate Change course that I took.)

Image010This year I have taken Environment and Your Health. Although this is a course within the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, it is a required course for public health. This course is also filled with guest lecturers. It begins teaching students about the basic science behind disease and then moves into current environmental issues. I have also taken Environment and Society: Towards Sustainability. This course was taught by an environmental economist, Professor Norman, in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering. The course was only nine people, which gave ample room for effective discussions. The final project for this class was to research the lifecycle of a product that has the potential to be environmentally-friendly. I researched a pencil case made out of reused CapriSun packages, and realized that it wasn’t as environmentally-friendly as I thought it would be.

This semester I am taking Population/Community Ecology by Professor Szlavecz. This course is not only cross-listed with public health, but includes two field trips! Although this course definitely will have some “science” in it, it’s not meant purely for science majors. I am excited for what I will learn from this course that I can apply to public health.  (That’s Professor Marsh on the Gettysburg field trip.)

Looking Ahead
Image012The environment is something that is inter-related to every major at Hopkins. I highly suggest this major for anyone that has an appreciation for the environment and wants to be able to better understand its inter-connectedness without having to dive into a laboratory. The minor has minimal requirements and is applicable to so many areas. I am currently doing research at the Center for a Livable Image014Future within the environmental health section of the JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health. I am constantly amazed by how the environment (and also population) plays such a large role in health. I have become more and more interested in population by realizing through these classes how population affects both human health and the environment’s health. I really have no idea what I plan to do in the future, but I know that I will be able to better relate problems that the world continuously faces to the environment.

Side Notes
-The Earth and Planetary Sciences Department is located in one of the coolest buildings on campus: Olin Hall! It’s right near Hodson Hall but set aside from the other buildings in a tree-filled part of campus. (Hopkins Trivia: Olin, who the building is named after, invented the plastic shotgun shell.)


-Secondly, if you’re a prospective student looking to gain an even greater environmental perspective on the world, stay-tuned for a new major that has already been proposed entitled: global environmental change and sustainability. Read more about the highly inter-departmental major here!

-And lastly, feel free to contact Professor Sverjensky if you have any questions about the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department: sver@jhu.edu.


Click here to access more information about the Environmental Studies Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective!


Environmental Sciences

Name: Yuanting Zha

Year: Class of 2011

Hometown: Walnut, CA

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Minor: Environmental Sciences

(Editor’s note: Starting in Fall 2009, the Environmental Sciences program is now part of the new Global Environmental Change and Sustainability program.)


I’d like to let you in on a little known secret: JHU’s environmental sciences minor. With only two or three students per year, this minor often is confused with Hopkins’ other environmental-related minors, an issue which I hope to clarify. There are several other similar-sounding minors, such as environmental Earth sciences, environmental studies, and environmental engineering. Students in the environmental Earth sciences minor deal more with Earth as a planet by focusing on topics such as geology, ecology, oceanography, and atmospheric science. Environmental studies is geared toward humanities/social science majors and discusses topics such as environmental policy. The environmental engineering minor is open only to engineering majors and focuses on water and wastewater treatment.

I am a proud student of the environmental sciences minor, which was created to promote the study of the environment, in the broadest sense, by science and engineering majors. What I love about this minor is the flexibility it offers. Core requirements are extremely easy to fulfill—most if not all the courses overlap with those of science and engineering majors anyway. Beyond that, all you need are two introductory and three upper-level environmental science courses, which you get to hand pick yourself to tailor to your own interests and major. There are four different focus areas to help supplement and make the most out of your degree:

  • Biological Processes—ex. Microbes, pollutants and ecosystems
  • Physical Processes—ex. Erosion, sediment transport
  • Environmental Chemistry—ex. Acid rain, atmospheric & wastewater chemistry
  • Environmental Systems—ex. Risk assessment, environmental design

Aquarius Many of the courses also include class field trips to off-campus geological/environmental sites like marshes of the Chesapeake Bay or on board the University of Maryland’s Research Vessel Aquarius. Study abroad programs are also available with boundless options, with Australia being the most popular destination. Clubs such as Students for Environmental Action (SEA), Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), and Hopkins Energy Action Team (HEAT) allow students to continue pursuing the topic even outside the classroom.

So what do I plan on doing with my biomedical engineering major and environmental science minor you ask? I am currently looking into research in toxicology and environmental health, but to be honest, I’m not too sure. I’ve always had a strong interest in the environment, and this minor provides the perfect combination of depth and flexibility, fits well into my schedule and won’t require that I graduate in six years. It might seem small, but the environmental science minor offers a wide range of choices and opportunities to satiate your inner treehugger and enrich your Hopkins experience.


Click here to access more information about the Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective!