March 08, 2022

New Minor Focuses on Earth’s Interrelated Systems

Lewis & Clark students will soon be able to pursue a new interdisciplinary minor in Earth system science.

Two students taking measurements in Tryon Creek. Two students taking measurements in Tryon Creek.

By Hanna Merzbach BA ’20

Professor Jessica Kleiss Professor Jessica Kleiss Credit: Steve HambuchenBeginning in fall 2022, Lewis & Clark students will be able to pursue a new interdisciplinary minor in Earth system science. This program will focus on the interactions within and between Earth’s different spheres, including the lithosphere (rock), the hydrosphere (water), the atmosphere (air), the biosphere (life), and the cryosphere (ice).

The approval of this new minor comes on the heels of the introductions of other interdisciplinary minors, including health studies, data science, and entrepreneurial leadership and innovation. Like these programs, the earth system science minor will pull together courses L&C already offers and give them a curricular home.

“I very much feel that this minor was driven by student interest,” said Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Jessica Kleiss, who spearheaded the campaign for the minor along with Professor of Geological Science Elizabeth Safran.

Professor Elizabeth Safran Professor Elizabeth Safran Credit: Steve HambuchenRather than creating, say, a geology minor, the professors wanted to introduce a program that provides a framework for understanding Earth’s transformations on a large scale, along with pulling on L&C’s strengths in the natural sciences.

“You can’t understand climate change and its related concepts if you don’t understand the basics of chemistry and biology,” explained Safran. “The liberal arts college experience is at its best when it takes advantage of our ability to cross boundaries.”

Students in the program will have the opportunity to personalize their coursework to fit their individual interests. They will choose two geoscience courses—like Climate Science and Oceanography—and two natural science courses, such as General Chemistry and Astronomy. In addition, students will take one to two electives, like Computational Mathematics, (Un)Natural Disasters, or Invertebrate Zoology, among others.

As climate change ramps up, the introduction of the Earth system science minor couldn’t be more timely.

In order to address climate change, you need to know what the actions you take are going to do,” said Safran. “The first problem of tackling climate change is understanding how it works.”

This minor also acts as a gateway into environmental careers. L&C alums who have taken Safran and Kleiss’s courses have landed positions with the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the U.S. Geological Survey. The professors hope that adding the minor will attract more students from various academic departments, as well as increase the visibility of related summer research and internship opportunities.

“Earth system science offers a compelling career path because it is an applied science, and our student body is often characterized as having strong interests in environmental work,” said Kleiss.

One of these students is Karl Peterson BA ’23, an environmental studies major who has filled his schedule with both physical and geological science courses. He could be one of the first people to graduate with the new minor.

“This news gives me much to look forward to,” said Peterson. “I hope it will help make me of interest to employers.”

Another environmental studies major, Claire Lynch BA ’24, said taking Climate Science last year reinforced her love of learning.

“I simply want to understand the whys of the natural world,” she said. “The Earth system science minor sums that up perfectly with its broad range of departments—all tackling the same why.”

The Earth system science minor will be added to the 2022–23 undergraduate catalog.

Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Programs