KALAMAZOO, Michigan—Western Michigan University's College of Arts and Sciences is set to undergo an exciting change following the Board of Trustees' approval to establish a new School of Environment, Geography and Sustainability, with Dr. Benjamin Ofori-Amoah leading the way as the founding director. This new school will combine the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Geography, Environment and Tourism into a single entity.
"The School of Environment, Geography and Sustainability represents a new era of collaboration and cooperation at Western," says Dr. Carla Koretsky, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "Bringing together the strengths of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Department of Geography, Environment and Tourism into a single school is an exciting, faculty-driven step toward enhancing interdisciplinary collaboration, research and teaching."
Under the leadership of Ofori-Amoah, the School of Environment, Geography and Sustainability will become the administrative home of existing programs, which include 11 undergraduate majors and five minors, one graduate degree and two graduate certificate programs from Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Department of Geography, Environment and Tourism, as well as from the global and international studies program and the climate change studies minor. The school will also continue to offer a joint graduate certificate program with the Department of Political Science in climate change policy and management. Additionally, the School of Environment, Geography and Sustainability will administer the W.E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change.
"I am grateful for the unwavering support and dedication from the College of Arts and Sciences and the leadership of faculty and staff in bringing the School of Environment, Geography and Sustainability to life," says Ofori-Amoah, who has chaired the Department of Geography, Environment and Tourism since 2006. "It is an honor to serve as the founding director, and I look forward to collaborating with everyone to ensure that the School of Environment, Geography and Sustainability fulfills its vision of becoming a hub for interdisciplinary environmental research and education."
The new school aligns with the Interdisciplinarity@WMU initiative introduced in 2020 to transform academic affairs by creating collaborative programs that can tackle interconnected problems across different fields of study.
"Prior to the University formally shifting focus to interdisciplinary academics, our faculty had been talking about and pursuing ways to collaborate because we recognized there are areas of overlap and shared interest, particularly related to environmental concerns," says Ofori-Amoah. "When the (Interdisciplinarity@WMU) announcement was made, that’s when we started to take the idea of a school encompassing our units more seriously."
The creation of the school aims to consolidate efforts to address pressing social and environmental issues and sustainable solutions. The Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Geography, Environment and Tourism are multi- and interdisciplinary, with complementary programs focused on the natural world, human culture and socioeconomic systems. This merger will take advantage of their alignment, create a more understandable experience for students, facilitate new faculty initiatives and position Western for the future.
"We envision this school as the epicenter of dealing with major environmental and sustainability issues. Our faculty are already tackling those issues, and now there will be more collaboration on how to offer more integrative solutions to those problems and skills to our students to deal with them," says Dr. Devin Bloom, director of the Institute for Environment and Sustainability.
Despite the transition from separate units to a single school, Bloom and Ofori-Amoah affirm that the programs and curriculum will remain unchanged for the time being. As a result, students will still be able to pursue their current programs while also enjoying more faculty resources throughout their academic journey at Western.
"The school is a means to set up the future of what a multi and interdisciplinary approach to research and teaching students looks like. We now have the means of going about not just streamlining some of that curriculum to be more well-rounded but also opening the door for new courses to be offered and revised curriculum to happen," Bloom says.
Upon approval of the Board of Trustees, Ofori-Amoah will assume the position of School of Environment, Geography and Sustainability director, effective July 1, 2023. Until then, faculty members from both units will continue to meet jointly and plan for the opening of the school in fall 2023.
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.