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?
Although 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.)
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 simply 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.)
This 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.)
The 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 Future 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.
-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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!