NU's Spring Environmental Classes: A Preview


Reporting contributed by Aditi Bhandari, Beza Bisrat, Scott Brown, Christina Cilento, Aleks Kajmakoski, Jessie Moravek, Lan Nguyen and Cynthia Yang After 10 weeks of bare trees and dirty gray heaps of snow, spring quarter is a glorious return to Evanston. You can finally strip away our poofy layers, step out into the warm sunlight and frolic on the lakefill with abandon. The fact that you’re stuck in class most of the day may seem like a cruel punishment, but with a little help from In Our Nature’s list of environmental classes offered next quarter, you can keep your spring fever raging all day long.


Description: Imagine how cool it would be to casually slip into a conversation that you’re taking a class with the word “apocalypse” in it. Thanks to the department of Environmental Policy and Culture, now you can. The ENVR_POL 390 course is titled Apocalypse: Environment, History, Science, and Religion in the West, and seeks to discuss the “end of days” themes present in various fields. With the recent popularity of dystopian narratives such as The 100 and The Hunger Games, the interaction of these storylines with their environmental settings is not something that’s always talked about even though they can often play a large role in them. What’s even more interesting is to consider the fact that these stories have existed for hundred of years; think of Noah’s Ark of Biblical times, and the fear of a nuclear winter in the mid-20th century.

What to get out of this class: Anyone interested in this class can expect to read excerpts “ranging from the bible itself to considerations of the Black Death, colonial American millennialism and beyond,” according to Prof. Sheila Wille. “[I am] committed to improving the writing skills of my students,” she adds, and in a class based heavily on history, definitely be prepared to write several papers and essays.

Best CTEC: “Prof. Wille is a great professor who combines history and science in an interesting manner,” says Weinberg sophomore Rachael Sarette. “She is chill and most of the class ends up being a discussion instead of a lecture.”

Nature Documentaries

Description: Ever wondered how movies like “The Lord of the Rings" and “The Chronicles of Narnia” got those beautiful landscape panoramas? Excited for the 10th anniversary of “The March of the Penguins”? If nature documentaries are your thing, you should probably check out this class taught by Jason Sperb. Capturing the beauty of this earth on film has been something filmmakers have pursued for decades, whether to add sweeping shots of the world to epic fictional masterpieces, or to simply capture the majestic and miniscule changes the natural world goes through. This class aims to explore the nature documentary genre through the lenses of “the cultural, political and historical contexts out of which they emerged,” and in doing so, to throw light upon the way they reflect the past, present and the possible future. If nothing else, consider signing up for the class purely to watch films that will leave you awestruck on a weekly basis.

What to get out of this class: This class aims to expose students to some of the major stylistic themes and choices filmmakers make while creating nature documentaries. Watching a large variety of these films will also give you a better understanding of how the genre has evolved through the years, as has our view and relationship with the natural world.

Best CTEC: “Sperb is probably one of the greatest people who has ever lived. He … has a GREAT sense of humor.”

earth- a habitable planet

Description: Have you ever wondered about the Earth beneath your feet, and the processes that occur to keep it spherical and lush? Well look no further - this class is a wonderful introduction to looking at the Earth from a biogeological standpoint. You’ll learn about the physical processes governing environmental systems, from the water cycle to the atmosphere. You’ll also be exposed to current day debates over physical science resources - energy, water resources, and climate change are just a few topics! Buckle up because this class is not an easy A; there is a lot of material covered (as is with all Northwestern classes) but if you go into class with an open mind, you’ll be surprised by all the things you learn.

What to get out of this class: "Students gain a better understanding of different environmental cycles and how they affect us as human beings, especially in terms of global warming," says McCormick senior Taylor Riley. "The course also gives students the opportunity to think outside of the box to discuss different ways to approach these problems."

Best CTEC: "I loved Professor Beddows. She reminded me of Miss Frizzle from Magic School Bus and I loved it."

ocean atmosphere and climate

Description: “The Ocean, the Atmosphere and our Climate” is an introduction to oceanography and how oceans interact with global climate and weather. Students learn a lot about the chemistry, physics, biology, and geology of oceans and lakes in this class; and since Northwestern happens to be right on a lake, Prof. Blair is known for taking the class to the beach during the warm spring days! Topics are also tied in with current events, such as the Deep Water Horizon disaster, as the template for lectures.

What to get out of this class: “Students will gain an appreciation of how the ocean is critical to their lives, even if they live in the Midwest," said Prof. Blair. "Northwestern’s own coast line on Lake Michigan is used for class activities that demonstrate basic approaches to studying the ocean.”

Best CTEC: “You get to spend some classes OUTSIDE ON BEACH AND LAKEFILL, so that's wonderful during spring quarter. And NO EXAMS!”

Environmental Justice final

Description: If you’re ready to get your activism-juices flowing, take this class and learn more about the injustices that disadvantaged groups face when it comes to environmental issues. This is not a class that focuses on “what-ifs”, but rather specific cases and direct solutions. Weinberg junior Laura Beshilas states that Prof. Harley “has [students] thinking about issues in a very concrete way” and teaches them “how the environmental world really works.” If that’s not enough of a selling point, CTECs state that Prof. Harley often lets class out early (probably so that students have time to hit up some environmental justice protests).

Best CTEC: “Harvey is actually brilliant. He speaks articulately, smoothly and purposefully the way only a lawyer could.”

nature of plants

Description: It's all about plants. The intriguing, beautiful, delicious and practical plants that are part of our wonderful world. Plants have distinct and diverse biological features, interact with their environments (including humans), and play a big role in the rise of civilizations and societies. With a cool "Plant of the Day" kicking off each lecture, Professor Wickett leads students into a world of plants. Along with the basic biological functions and characteristics of these wonderful species, students learn about plants in the context of changing environment and climate, and in relation to human activities and societal developments.

What to get out of this class: Through this course, Prof. Wickett aims to broaden students biological background on the plants and hopes that "students will be able to go outside and see plants and think about them in a different way... and maybe develop a little more appreciation for that part of the natural world that they may not have had previously."

Best CTEC: "After this class, I can't eat beans without picturing tiny plant ovaries."

Ethics and the Environment

Description: "Dude, like, what IS nature even?"  If you've ever had a thought even remotely similar to those lines, this class is for you. Students in "Ethics and the Environment" will think about and discuss the morality, politics and value involved in major environmental issues, including climate change, human interactions with animals and the value of beauty in nature.

What to get out of this class: Prof. Kraut states that “Even though some of these issues are abstract, they all have definite implications for everyday life… I hope [students] come away from the course with a recognition that there is a philosophical component to environmental issues, and that philosophical part of it is hard, the way philosophy is hard.”

Food Security and Sustainability

Description: Unleash your inner Malthus in this class by exploring whether or not the world is capable of providing enough nutrition for a growing population. The course delves into issues like to hunger, food shortages and food distribution and then moves into potential solutions to food insecurity and sustainability.
What to get out of this class: "I think it was one of my favorite classes I've taken at Northwestern," said Madeline Miller, a Weinberg senior. "I'm a huge fan of Amanda Logan and her teaching style. It was a class that was really engaging but also felt really applicable to real life. She always had us thinking about issues and how to solve them and then make those solutions sustainable.”
Best CTEC: "Great class!!! you learn a lot! really interesting!! Logan is a really understanding prof and gets ideas across really well. only a few writing assignments throughout the quarter that arent difficult. DEFINITELY TAKE THIS CLASS - LIFE CHANGING”
ISEN 230 Description: ISEN 230 is like the cheese sampling of sustainability. It's taught by 3 professors who each cover a different area of sustainability, first starting with human-caused climate change, then delving into the ethics of environmentalism, and ending with an analysis of the economics behind mitigating climate change. If you can't really make up your mind if you want a science course, a philosophy course, or an economics course, ISEN 230 rolls 'em all into one.
What to get out of this class: "ISEN 230 taught me how interconnected the different facets of sustainability are and just how important it is to consider not only the scientific side, but also the economic and ethical angles when facing environmental challenges," said McCormick junior Emily Northard.
Best CTEC: "It's really easy though and who are we kidding that's exactly why you're taking ISEN anyway. Now here are CAPITAL LETTERS so you look at this post!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)"

earth systems

Description: Earth Systems Revealed is a very popular class and as a result, students need to fill out an application in order to get a chance to take it. But don’t worry; you don’t need to have an impressive rock collection to get in. All you have to do is express your curiosity and passion to learn more about the Earth’s minerals, seismicity, atmosphere and more. The course studies the physical, chemical and biological processes that shape the Earth, so if you’ve ever wondered where lightning comes from or why it’s so freaking cold in Chicago, sign up!

What to get out of this class: In addition to getting a better understanding of the qualities of each of the planet’s systems and how they interact with one another, students also get to go on a field trip to Baraboo, Wisconsin to get a hands-on experience of what they learned throughout the course.

Best CTEC: “I really like how [this class] changes your view on the rocks you see in every day life.”

Environmental Economics

Description: When you saw a list of environmental classes, you might have pictured lectures on Thoreau, not a class analyzing externalities and profit margins. However, Professor Mark Witte says analyzing the economics behind environmental problems is “necessary to understand and reduce the rising dangers resulting from global climate change.” This class analyzes the microeconomic factors behind issues such as pollution, endangered species and overconsumption of resources, letting you put your money where your mouth is when thinking about practical environmental solutions.

Best CTEC: "If you are looking for a class that will teach you something you should know as a human being, take this course."

[fbshare type="button"] [twitter style="horizontal" float="left"]