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History of Environmental Programs at Rice and CSES

Paul Harcombe

Paul Harcombe

In 1995, undergraduate Renee Sharp and Dr. Paul Harcombe created the first study of existing environmental programs and courses available to Rice students. They also began to document the student and faculty initiatives to improve and expand the courses and programs in the environment at Rice.

At the end of the 1995-96 academic year Rice undergraduates were surveyed to gauge interest in creating an Environmental Studies major at Rice. Over 200 students expressed interest; 63 of these students indicated that they would “seriously consider majoring (or would have majored) in Environmental Systems.” The survey was submitted to the President of Rice Malcolm Gillis. An ad hoc faculty committee met during the year as well and discussed expanding the environmental opportunities to Rice undergraduates. In response to the student survey and upon the suggestion of the ad hoc faculty committee, the Environmental Strategic Planning Committee was formed during the fall of 1996. The committee, which met throughout the 1996-97 academic year, was charged with assessing the current activities and resources related to the environment in the various disciplines, developing a vision and theme for Rice to be implemented over the next 10 years, and design an implementation plan.

The Environmental Strategic Planning Committee (ESPC) chose to focus on developing undergraduate and graduate curriculum in the environment. They felt that expanding the undergraduate programs would spur new faculty hires and consequently encourage more environmental research and affiliations with Houston, Texas, and national institutions.

Subcommittees were formed to create double majors in the areas of environmental policy, environmental science, environmental studies, and to review the environmental engineering major. The ESPC decided Rice students would be best served by a series of double major programs than by stand alone majors. The current resources made the double major programs more easily implemented in a shorter time frame. The double major would give students ample depth in environmental subject matter while complimenting and adding breadth to the student’s primary major.

As a result of the suggestions and work by members of the Environmental Strategic Planning Committee, Rice added two new environmental majors during the 1997-98 academic year. An Environmental Policy major was added as a track within the Policy Studies. Environmental Science was added as a track within the Environmental Engineering Sciences degree. For further details about degree options, see the programs section of this site.

During the fall semester of 1998, the Environmental Programs Steering Committee was created to oversee further developments and changes to programs of study at Rice.

The committee was replaced by the Center for the Study of Environment and Society in the Fall of 2001.