Urban Studies Track Added to Environmental Studies Major

The revamped major will also incorporate a new certificate in Chicago Studies, an expansion of the Chicago Studies Quarter.

By Deepti Sailappan, Managing Editor ('19-'20)

The environmental studies major will become environmental and urban studies, effective next fall. 

The new name accompanies the addition of a four-course urban environments track within the major, which will complement two existing tracks in environmental economics and policy, and socio-natural systems and frameworks. Students in the new track will be able to sample classes in urban design and planning, as well as explore urban issues in courses across a variety of departments, from economics to creative writing. 

Sabina Shaikh, director of the Program on the Global Environment, which oversees the major, stressed the relevance of cities to environmental studies.  

“Under the leadership of previous directors, the major has always taken a wide-ranging and interdisciplinary approach to [the] environment and the place of humans in it,” Shaikh wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon. “Chicago became a hub of economic activity because of our natural landscape and geographic setting, and understanding those connections between the social, natural and physical realms of human activity is critical to the future of sustainable, resilient cities.” 

 The major has also been redesigned to incorporate the newly created Chicago Studies certificate program, which Shaikh says is a “natural partner” for the environmental and urban studies department.   

As part of the certificate program, which is an expansion of the Chicago Studies quarter, students will select three Chicago-centered courses—ranging from a history colloquium on World’s Fairs to an environmental studies practicum on urban gardens—and complete a capstone project linking academic study with sustained, practical “high-impact community engagement.”  

Students who fulfill these requirements earn a Chicago Studies certificate that appears on their transcripts, according to Chris Skrable, associate director for community-based research and experiential learning at the University Community Service Center, who supervises the program along with the Program on the Global Environment. 

The Chicago Studies quarter will continue in its current form, but all three courses in it will now count toward the new certificate program.  

“I think the challenge of the Chicago Studies quarter has been that it ate up a whole quarter without feeding into anything else,” Skrable said. “My hope is that [the Chicago Studies certificate] is going to attract any student who is passionate about either their field of study or the city of Chicago and is trying to think of a way to put those two things in dialogue in a way that enriches both.” 

He noted that Chicago Studies is “not a discipline-bound certificate,” though it shares a special relationship with environmental and urban studies. Most courses form part of the major’s new urban environments track, and completion of the certificate fulfills the major’s requirement of an internship or field studies experience. 

“For students who are interested in urban and environmental issues generally, Chicago Studies opens up a dynamic, living classroom, and the University is situated within that classroom,” Shaikh wrote. “We learned over the past few years that there is substantial overlap between students who express interest in Chicago Studies quarter and those with academic interest in urban issues.” 

Both Shaikh and Skrable emphasized that the initiatives in environmental and urban studies and Chicago Studies were sparked by a surge of existing faculty and student interest in urban issues. “In the last ten years, the University has been reclaiming its identity as Chicago’s university,” Skrable said. 

Shaikh added in her e-mail that the University’s global centers, Urban Labs, and Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, a center for “interdisciplinary urban scholarship” scheduled to launch this summer, represent a monumental effort to engage in problems surrounding cities. “[These facilities] are all drawing attention to the University as the premier urban research institution,” she said.