Posted: Tuesday Apr 10, 2012
April 10, 2012
Since Dr. Caryl Fish joined the Saint Vincent College faculty in 1991, she has nurtured the Environmental Science program in the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Computing from its birth into a thriving major program that is growing in popularity with today’s environmentally conscious students.
“The earliest program had two tracks, Environmental Chemistry and Environmental Administration,” Dr. Fish, associate professor and chair of chemistry, recalled. “In 2003, we decided there was a need for an Environmental Science major that integrated the study of biology and chemistry. In developing that major, we wanted it to be a science major that also included the humanities and social sciences.”
“Environmental science majors start out with the same general chemistry and biology as all other science majors,” Dr. Fish continued. “They have a strong science background with courses in general chemistry, ecology, physics, earth systems science and geographic information systems but they also take humanities courses such as an English course called Green Writing: Literature and the Environment, a history course, Society and the Environment: The American Experience, and a philosophy course, Environmental Ethics. In the social sciences, they study Environmental Law and Policy and Environmental Sociology. They also take advanced environmental courses including Advanced Environmental Chemistry and Methods of Environmental Analysis, Environmental Disturbances and Ornithology. The major has a significant number of free electives so that students can really design their curriculum to meet their needs. Many students minor in biology, business or political science.”
Beginning with two majors in the first year, enrollment has grown to 30 students this year, nearly doubling in the past five years. “There is an active Environmental Science Club and an Environmental Awareness Club which are really getting students involved in campus recycling, activities at the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve and other projects,” Dr. Fish pointed out.
Students graduating from the program are doing very well with employment and graduate school admission. “One student is in a marine ecology master’s program in Florida, others are finding opportunities in work related to Marcellus Shale mining, and another has several offers in the area of environmental education.”
The outreach programs attached to the Environmental Science program are an important part of the program’s success. “The Monastery Run Project wetlands and Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve provide valuable outdoor laboratories for our students,” Dr. Fish noted. “We also take advantage of other excellent resources in the region such as Powdermill Nature Reserve, natural areas on Chestnut Ridge, Pittsburgh’s three rivers, Carnegie Science Center and others.”
Looking to the future, Dr. Fish said she wants to expand the school’s offerings in geology. “We do biology and chemistry very well but we are missing upper level courses in the earth sciences,” she said. “This is important because of the role that energy will play in the future. We would like to add a faculty member with expertise in an area such as hydrogeology or alternative energies such as wind or solar power.”
Another new initiative is the creation of environmental education sections in core classes. “This summer we plan to create modules so that faculty can present topics to students about some aspect of energy,” Dr. Fish predicted. “We really want to have this idea of energy and sustainability in all the science classes for a wide variety of students. It is part of our departmental strategic plan.”
Another part of the plan will potentially connect with a new four-year engineering degree program in the early planning stage. “I see a nice mesh with the environmental science movement and an engineering degree,” Dr. Fish added.
Environmental Science offers excellent opportunities for students to complete internships while they are juniors or seniors. “Internships related to the monitoring of Marcellus Shale drilling are available as well as industries using solar, wind and biofuels since a lot of our students are interested in those,” Dr. Fish noted.
The Sis and Herman Dupré Science Pavilion has been a major addition for the Environmental Science program. “There is specific classroom and laboratory space for Environmental Science,” Dr. Fish pointed out. “The new greenhouse is a major new asset. These all make a big difference on a daily basis and provide excellent support for faculty and student research.”
Dr. Fish commented on how much she enjoys working in the field of Environmental Science education at Saint Vincent. “I especially enjoy developing curriculum,” she concluded. “Taking ideas and putting them together and giving it to the students. I do all active learning, no lecturing at all. What I do is work out active learning strategies so the students are actively engaged in class. I try to bring in food or anything that will help them make the connections. It’s nice to see they are working.”
A graduate of Manchester College (Indiana), Dr. Fish was a dual major in chemistry and environmental studies. “I worked in the chemical industry for five years with a paper company while I was also earning an MBA,” she said. “I decided I wanted to return to higher education to teach so I pursued a Ph.D. at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Br. Norman Hipps, O.S.B. (then Provost, now President) recruited me to come to Saint Vincent to start the environmental program and it is the only place I have ever taught.”
Dr. Fish and her husband, Dr. Daryle Fish, associate professor of chemistry at Saint Vincent, have two sons, Thomas, 18, who is studying anthropology at Washington College in Maryland, and Aaron, 15, a sophomore at Greater Latrobe High School.
Photo: Dr. Caryl Fish
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