Skip to Main Content

Environment

 


 
You are in the main content
Cover Photo Image


ENVT 400

Capstone Seminar in Environmental Problem Solving


The Capstone seminar of the Environmental Minors Program is a cross disciplinary team-taught course that provides students and faculty with a transformative educational experience. It is designed to facilitate and combine hands-on research projects, cross-disciplinary communication and teamwork, and opportunities for community service learning with intensive theoretical and methodological training, analysis and application. This capstone experience recognizes that environmental problems are complex and multifaceted, and that no single discipline or perspective can provide a society with the knowledge and tools that are necessary to understand, design and implement solutions to environmental problems. Thus, the seminar brings together students from each of the three different minor programs for a culminating experience. 

Our seminar design reflects the reality that contemporary environmental research and decision-making requires sustained cross-disciplinary communication and teamwork. For this reason the course is team-taught by professors from different disciplines who will work together in the classroom for every session. While an occasional guest speaker might make an appearance, the substance of the course is generated by the collaborative conversation between the faculty in the classroom and students. The instructors of each course will design the course around a particular environmental topic. To facilitate intensive projects it is capped at 16 students.

Course Description

Integrates perspectives from three environment programs: Environmental Management, Environmental Science and Environmental Studies. The course is team taught using a case-study approach to environmental issues, emphasizing teamwork and student initiative. Topics vary. Prerequisites: Completion of 15 hours in declared environment minor or permission of instructor. Students wishing to complete more than one of the Environment minors (Environmental Studies, Environmental Science, Environmental Management) may receive dual credit for ENVT 400. 

Current Topic

Fall 2014

Course topic: What is low energy input sustainable agriculture, and can it feed the planet?
Team: Jennifer Coffman (Ph.D. Anthropology) and Wayne Teel (Ph.D. Agroforestry, Soil Science and International Agriculture)

This course examines low energy input agriculture, how people are pursuing it, the major threats or roadblocks in expanding this type of farming, and movements to increase the number of people invested in making it happen. This course will focus on three basic discussion points:

  1. U.S.-based industrial agriculture's dependence on fossil fuels and the pressures of corporate interests
  2. "Alternative farming" as too small-scale and isolated to readily expand to cover present demand for food
  3. Low energy, low input agriculture's promise but also need to develop new models and incorporate vastly more farmers to cover the impending food deficit

This course involves readings, a variety of project assignments (written and presentation forms), and an experiential component involving 25 hours of work on local farms presently selling at local farmers markets. Group projects examining particular types of low energy, low input farming will serve as the focus of student research activity. At the conclusion of the semester, students will present their findings in a public forum. 

Hike

Upcoming Topic

Spring 2015

Course topic: Sustainability in the Valley
Team: Dr. Maria Papadakis, JMU; Dr Jim Yoder, EMU; Dr. Joe Sprangl, Mary Baldwin College; Dr. Tim Kreps, Bridgewater College, and Dr. Maggie Marangione, Blue Ridge Community College. 

Our Spring 2015 capstone experience is an exciting opportunity to collaborate with peers not only at JMU, but also at EMU, Bridgewater College, Mary Baldwin College, and Blue Ridge Community College. Together we will all be exploring what sustainability means in the context of the Shenandoah Valley, and examine this from many perspectives--environmental, cultural, economic, social quality of life, equity and justice, and food production. We'll do this in a hands-on and "real life" perspective with practical results. Our goal is to look at concepts, gather and analyze data on the Valley itself, and produce a sustainability progress report that can be used by government, non-profits, and businesses throughout the region.

Previous Topics

Spring 2014

Course topic: Mountaintop Removal in Appalachia
Team: Bruce Wiggins (Ph.D. Microbiology/Ecology/Environmental Toxicology) and Pete Bsumek (Ph.D. Rhetoric and Communication)

This course investigates various environmental and social impacts of mountaintop removal. By bringing together expertise from multiple disciplines, students are encouraged to consider how, and to what extent, mountaintop removal causes environmental degradation, impacts culture and beliefs, and affects the economy of the region. As a class, students begin by determining the wide-ranging causes and impacts of mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Then, students form small groups based on interest and background and complete more research on an aspect of the problem and formulate possible solutions. These groups then integrate their findings into a final presentation and research paper.

Fall 2013

Course topic: Water in the Valley
Team: Christine May (Ph.D. Fisheries and Wildlife) and Georgia Polacek (Ph.D. Health Education (Health Promotion))

'Water in the Valley' will integrate social and biological aspects of water resource issues in the Shenandoah Valley. Conflicts between societal needs and biological concerns often arise over this vital resource. This class will investigate the foundation for such conflicts by exploring societal perspectives of human uses of water and resulting biological conditions that effect human health and ecosystem functions. Special emphasis will be placed on conservation and restoration opportunities that can elevate such conflicts and develop more sustainable options for water use in the future. 

Spring 2013

Course topic: Food for Thought: Food, Farming and Culture from Local to Global
Team: Christie-Joy Brodrick Hartman (Ph.D. Transportation Technology and Policy) and Mary Handley (Ph.D. Plant Pathology)

This seminar explored how food and farming intersect with the three facets of sustainable development, environment, economy, and equity. Built around the question "What does sustainable food look like?" students explored food production and consumption across a range of scales from local to global.

Spring 2012

Course topic: Feeding the Planet
Team: Wayne Teel (Ph.D. Agroforestry, Soil Science and International Agriculture) and Katey Castellano (Ph.D. English)

This seminar focused on the global and local food systems that feed the planet. Beginning with a global perspective, this course  investigated various environmental impacts and implications of intensive agriculture on the planet.  By bringing together expertise from multiple disciplines, students were encouraged to consider how and to what extent agriculture:

  • causes environmental degradation and/or remakes environments for better or worse;
  • impacts, shapes and is enabled by culture and beliefs;
  • is produced by the political economies of the region, the nation and the global system.

As a class, students began by determining the wide-ranging environmental and cultural impacts of global food systems.  Then, students formed small groups based on interest and background in order to complete more research on a local aspect of the problem as well as formulate possible solutions.  These groups integrated their findings into a final presentation and research paper.

Spring 2011

Course topic: Mountaintop Removal in Appalachia
Team: Bruce Wiggins (Ph.D. Microbiology/Ecology/Environmental Toxicology) and Pete Bsumek (Ph.D. Rhetoric and Communication)

This course investigated various environmental impacts of mountaintop removal. By bringing together expertise from multiple disciplines, students were encouraged to consider how mountaintop removal causes environmental degradation, impacts culture and beliefs, and affects the economy of the region. As a class, students began by determining the wide-ranging causes and impacts of mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Then, students formed small groups based on interest and background in order to complete more research on one aspect of the problem as well as formulate possible solutions. These groups then integrated their findings into a final presentation and research paper.

Spring 2010

Course topic: Biofuels and the Global Food Supply
Team: Jennifer Coffman (Ph.D. Anthropology) and Steve Frysinger (Ph.D. Environmental Sciences)