Within the last 20 years, the need for environmental awareness and the topic itself have grown significantly worldwide. Such a trend can be seen throughout the United States with the growth of alternative energy industries such as wind, hydro and biomass and a general spark of public interest in vital environmental issues such as global warming.
Even on our own campus change is evident; UW-Madison's ""We Conserve,"" started in 2006, has been considered a triumph by environmentalists nationwide for promoting cleaner energy and being a step in the right direction toward a more environmentally conscious student base.
Along with the progress the We Conserve program has made in physically changing UW-Madison into a more efficient university, the program also has another goal: to raise awareness on a student level. As of this fall, in association with the We Conserve program, Environmental Studies 139/400, titled ""Why Conserve"" was offered at Madison. The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and ""We Conserve"" are urging that this class be made mandatory for all incoming freshmen in an effort to further environmental awareness on campus at a student level.
This is an excellent idea and one the university should strongly consider. If UW-Madison would truly like to consider itself a trendsetter in today's environmentally challenging world, advanced eco-friendly facilities are only half of the equation. An environmentally conscious student base could prove to be an even more precious investment for We Conserve, as some of these students are likely to become the future leaders and decision makers of the world.
The class structure itself is attractive for students; ""Why Conserve"" meets only twice a week and requires minimal physical work. Instead, students read articles out of class relating to recent environmental issues, and in class they are introduced to various speakers––experts in the environmental field, or related fields––who speak about both local and worldwide environmental issues. Question and answer sessions typically follow these seminars, in which students have a chance to ask any question they like directly toward the expert in the field or clarify any ideas they might have been confused by in the readings. Through these methods, students remain engaged in the material and, most importantly, are challenged to think about their actions and how they are affecting the world around them, for better or worse. This approach effectively promotes a more environmentally aware student body. Environmental Studies 139/400 is not a burden to students but rather an enjoyable experience.
Making this class mandatory would demand that every student, no matter what school they enroll in or what they plan on studying, is required to take one semester of environmental education, similar to the ethnic studies or quantitative reasoning requirements. This is a step the university should take. The times have changed, and so should the curriculum. There is absolutely no reason in today's educationl system why students should not know about their environment or at least the basic facts about it to make free decisions that will most definitely affect their lives or the lives of their children and grandchildren.
A more environmentally conscious student base is one that will inevitably make better decisions relating to the preservation of this world and all it contains that we citizens hold dear. The first step in promoting change in the way things are done is an educated population. Thus, the university should listen to We Conserve and the Nelson Institute and work to make this enjoyable, beneficial and educational class mandatory for all incoming freshmen.
Collin Wisniewski is a sophomore intending to major in journalism. Please sent responses to email@example.com.